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Clashes in Rome as police evict refugee squatters from square

ROME, Aug 24 (Reuters) – Police using water canon and batons clashed on Thursday with refugees who had occupied a small Rome square in defiance of an order to leave a building where they had been squatting.

Television images showed some of the refugees screaming and trying to hit police, who were dressed in riot gear, with sticks. The square, just one block from Rome’s main train station, was strewn with mattresses, overturned rubbish bins and broken plastic chairs.

Some 100 refugees had occupied the square since Saturday when most of about 800 squatters were evicted from an adjacent office building they had occupied for about five years.

Hung on the building was a sheet with writing reading “We are refugees, not terrorists” in Italian.

A small fire burned on the pavement and a sheet hanging from a first-floor window was set alight by squatters inside.

Most of the squatters were Eritreans who had been granted asylum. Police said they had refused to accept lodging offered by the city.

In a statement, the police said the refugees had gas canisters, some of which they had opened, and officers had been hit by rocks, bottles and pepper spray. Two people were arrested. (Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)