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VATICAN CITY -- Two Italian men who had threatened to set themselves on fire in St. Peter's Square to protest Italy's economic slump were taken away by police on Tuesday.
The men held plastic bottles and lighters and roared angry criticism of the Italian government for about two hours before the police moved in. Firefighters and police had cordoned them off from a crowd of onlookers. The two men were part of a small group protesting against Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta's government and a political class they see as living luxuriously while ordinary people struggle in an economy that has not grown since mid-2011. "Hunger strike, Italian man with a family asks for asylum. Help me (Pope) Francis," read a sign one of the men wore around his neck. Others protesting in the group angrily confronted a group of senior clerics who appeared in the square, insulting them and saying they should be helping the people. "This is our desperate cry," said Celso Scaglioni, 46, one of the protesters from the city of Parma in Northern Italy. He said he had closed his restaurant because taxes were too high for him to make a living. The protesters were part of a small group called "December 9" that says it is protesting because it no longer feels represented by the Italian state. Discontent with politicians fuelled a series of spontaneous road blockages, marches and strikes led by a group known as the "Pitchfork Movement" in December.