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17/10/00 . Rory Carroll in Rome and Andy Murdoch in London . The Guardian . UK  
 
Protesters try to halt rise of fast-food giant in Italy  
 
Riot police were mobilised yesterday to protect McDonald's restaurants as thousands of demonstrators in 20 Italian cities declared war on the fast-food chain.  

In Milan, marchers flung raw meat through police lines, splattering restaurant windows with blood. But most of the protests were more peaceful, with crowds in Rome, Naples, Palermo and Turin chanting: "Better a day of tortellini than 100 days of hamburgers."

Organisers of the protests have said they will intensify their campaign, predicting that Italy will overtake France in the strength of its opposition to the chain.

The government promised to set up a task force to draw up a charter of principles for multinational companies. The charter, to be agreed with trade unions, was intended to defuse hostility by acting as a "civic defender", said the industry minister, Enrico Letta.

He added: "It would be a mistake to create a climate of tension. McDonald's is one of the few foreign companies bringing investment to our country."

A coalition of leftwing radicals, family-run bars and trade unions hopes to reverse, or at least slow down, McDonald's planned opening of 200 outlets in the next two years. It says the chain is destroying consumer choice, exploiting staff andselling unhealthy food.

McDonald's responds that it is employing 15,000 young people and has become hugely popular with families since opening its first restaurant in Rome 15 years ago.

The countrywide protests were bolstered by controversy over the chain's treatment of staff.

Last week, 20 employees in Florence walked out in protest at an "intimidating" work climate. Around the same time a manager in Florence raised hackles by disciplining an employee for sipping a soft drink without permission. The worker complained to his union, which complained to the labour minister, Cesare Salvi.

After meeting the minister, the president of McDonald's in Italy, Mario Resca, promised an inquiry. "The respect and valour of each of our employees is of the highest priority to McDonald's," he said, adding that the new outlets would create 10,000 jobs.

The chain, which has 272 restaurants in Italy, suffered another blow when trade unions mobilised to defend five employees reprimanded for eating chocolate chips.

Earlier this month Fausto Bertinotti, leader of the Refounded Communist party, led 100,000 protesters to a McDonald's branch in Piazza della Repubblica in Rome. Branding its hamburgers a symbol of Americanisation and globalisation, he said he understood why people physically attacked the restaurants.

The Turin-based Slow Food movement, which champions traditional cooking and eating, joined yesterday's protests. Its spokesman, Silvio Barbero, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper: "It forces consumers to taste the same hamburger in Tokyo, New York, Helsinki and Palermo. A McDonald's hamburger doesn't evoke regional tastes or sensations, and its gastronomic origin is impossible to define."

Ghettoised for years with a combined market share of 5%, McDonald's and Burger King resolved to bring Italy up to the European average of 25%. Food purists said Italians would never succumb, but they were wrong, with pasta salads and pizza slices boosting the chains' popularity.

Digested history of McProtest

In the 1980s, McDonald's faced protests in the west after rumours that its beef came from cattle raised on cleared rainforest in South and Central America. The firm quickly clarified the situation - it demands proof from its suppliers that they use only long-established cattle ranches and 100% EU beef. But the myth lives on.

In Britain, the 'David and Goliath' McLibel case began in 1994 and saw the company successfully sue Dave Morris and Helen Steel for allegations they made in a leaflet in the late 80s. It became the longest libel case in English history, lasting over two and a half years and costing McDonald's 10m.

In summer this year, a French farmer, Jose Bove, roused Gallic sympathy when he was jailed for three months for attacking a half-built McDonald's in Millau, southern France. He was protesting against US duties on French cheese and the 'McDomination of the world'.

It took 13 years for McDonald's to establish a presence on Hampstead High Street, north London, after celebrity opposition from the likes of Melvyn Bragg, Tom Conti and Margaret Drabble  
 
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