ROME (Reuters) – Thousands gathered in Rome to celebrate the political demise of Silvio Berlusconi on Saturday, whistling and shouting insults as the 75-year-old media magnate drove to hand in his resignation as prime minister.
In an atmosphere reminiscent of a football World Cup victory celebration, squares outside government buildings were packed with cheering crowds, singing and chanting as the curtain came down on Berlusconi’s scandal-hit government.
Police held back the crowds behind barriers outside Berlusconi’s private residence in central Rome and in front of the Quirinale Palace, the residence of the head of state, President Giorgio Napolitano.
A small orchestra played the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah as the crowd waited for Berlusconi to appear and hand in his resignation.
“We’re here by chance, we’re tourists, but we saw this collective joy and I think it is a historical change in our country, this is the feeling we had walking around the city,” said Daniele Forese, a visitor from southern Italy.
Many carried signs with derisive slogans like “Bye bye Silvio, Ciao, Ciao!” after a vote in parliament cleared the way for Berlusconi to step down, two and a half years after he came to power with one of the largest majorities in Italian history.
Flag-waving revellers buzzed past on scooters, conga-lines formed and chants of “Clown! Clown!”, the traditional insult hurled at disgraced Italian politicans, rang out in a spontaneous celebration after weeks of political turmoil.
“We are waiting for the end, we are waiting for the end of the Berlusconi era, we hope it is going to be the end,” said Rome resident Angela Lanza. Berlusconi was prime minister for a total of 17 years, making him Italy’s longest-serving premier.
A small cluster of Berlusconi supporters gathered outside his residence, but they were shouted down by the vastly larger number of those there to celebrate the premier’s downfall.
With Italy sliding deeper into crisis and financial markets hammering government bonds, millions of ordinary people have been fearful for their jobs, pensions and savings.
“You have taken away my pension for your budget,” shouted one man, balanced on the shoulders of another demonstrator.
The protest reflected Berlusconi’s growing unpopularity after months of relentless scandal and bad economic news, but it also underlined a widespread fury against the entire Italian political class.
(Writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Tim Pearce)