More than half a million anti-war protesters from across Europe marched through Florence at the weekend, singing communist anthems and 1970s peace songs, in a demonstration denouncing any US attack on Iraq.
The protest, planned months ago, marked the climax of the first European Social Forum, a four-day meeting of anti-globalisation campaigners.
"Take your war and go to hell," read one banner. "Drop Bush, not bombs," read an other. Some placards depicted the US president, George Bush, as Hitler and Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, as Mussolini.
Authorities estimated that some 450,000 protesters flooded Florence's streets for the march on a chilly autumn Saturday afternoon. But by dusk, the crowd had swelled to more than half a million.
Despite the large crowds, the march was largely peaceful and no incidents were reported.
"The atmosphere here is wonderful. Absolutely perfect. It shows that a new young left is emerging," said Stavos Valsamis, a 27-year-old activist from Athens.
The march was bigger than a protest at the G8 summit in Genoa last year, when 300,000 demonstrators took to the streets and violence left one protester dead and hundreds injured.
Some 7,000 police officers were on call but security forces kept a low profile along the rally's route.
But in Brussels a protest march of 1,500 demonstrators against war in Iraq turned violent yesterday when dozens of youths clashed with police and attacked American-owned businesses.
Masked, stone-throwing youths broke windows at a McDonald's restaurant and a hotel, as well as a local temporary employment agency.
Photographers and TV camera operators were also targeted by the rioters. But only minor damage was done as riot police moved in, backed by water cannon. Reuters