Thousands of protesters, led by trade unionists, have rallied in Rome against the policies of Italy’s new coalition government.
Wielding red flags and placards, they urged the centre-left prime minister, Enrico Letta, to scrap austerity measures and focus on job creation.
Public trust in his fragile coalition with the centre-right is dropping, opinion polls suggest.
Italy is experiencing its longest recession in more than 40 years.
National debt is now about 127% of annual economic output, second only to Greece in the eurozone.
Unemployment is at a record high of 11.5% – 38% for the under-25s.
Before taking office, Enrico Letta vowed to make job creation his priority, but critics are unhappy that he has focused on property tax reform.
The issues of social justice and poverty came up when German Chancellor Angela Merkel had talks with the new Pope, Francis, at the Vatican on Saturday.
Organized by the metalworkers’ union FIOM and the CGIL union, Saturday’s peaceful march and rally drew supporters from across Italy. The turnout was unclear but 50,000 people had been expected to attend.
“We ask the government to change [former Prime Minister Mario] Monti’s and [former Prime Minister Mario Silvio] Berlusconi’s politics,” said Maurizio Landini, leader of the FIOM.
“If they don’t change, as the country asked for with its vote, we are going nowhere.”
A controversial poster depicted Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is seen as typifying austerity
One of the protesters, Enzo Bernardis, told Reuters news agency: “We hope that this government will finally start listening to us because we are losing our patience.”
Soon after being appointed, Enrico Letta met other eurozone leaders to convey growing public unrest over austerity measures in Italy.
But the new prime minister has to maintain a delicate balance between the policies of his own supporters and those of the centre-right, led by Silvio Berlusconi.
Italy’s coalition was only formed after two months of post-election deadlock.
Among the demonstrators in Rome were radical leftists.
A controversial poster depicted Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is seen as typifying austerity, in mock-Nazi uniform.
On Thursday, Pope Francis said in a speech that the global economic crisis had made life worse for millions in rich and poor countries.
Speaking after her private meeting with the pontiff, Angela Merkel told reporters: “Crises have blown up because the rules of the social market have not been observed…
“It is true that economies are there to serve people and that has by no means always been the case in recent years.”
Angela Merkel said she and Pope Francis had spoken mainly about globalization, the European Union and the role of Europe in the world.
“Pope Francis made it clear that we need a strong, fair Europe and I found the message very encouraging,” she added.
While she is not a Catholic herself, Angela Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran minister, leads a party with a strong Catholic component.
Nigerian people and trade unionists have condemned the government for withdrawing a fuel price subsidy which has led petrol prices to more than double in many areas.
Nigerians are angry at the announcement, fearing the price of many other goods will also rise.
The main trade unions have called people to prepare for a strike.
Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil producer, but imports refined petrol.
Years of mismanagement and corruption mean it does not have the capacity to refine oil, turning it into petrol and other fuels.
Analysts say many Nigerians regard cheap fuel as the only benefit they get from the nation’s oil wealth.
Several previous governments have tried to remove the subsidy but have backed down in the face of widespread public protests and reduced it instead.
The IMF has long urged Nigeria’s government to remove the subsidy, which costs a reported $8 billion a year.
Early in the morning, many petrol stations in Nigerian capital Abuja were closed as the owners were not sure what price they should charge, but they have since opened.
Prices have increased from 65 naira ($0.40) per liter to at least 140 naira in filling stations and from 100 naira to at least 200 on the black market, where many Nigerians buy their fuel.
There are reports that petrol prices have tripled in some remote areas, while commuters have complained that motorcycle and minibus taxi fares have already doubled or tripled.
The government finance team led by respected pair central bank governor Lamido Sanusi and Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala have long argued that removing the subsidy would free up money to invest in other sectors and relieve poverty.
In a statement, it urged people not to panic-buy or hoard fuel.
“Consumers are assured of adequate supply of quality products at prices that are competitive and non-exploitative,” the statement said.
The government recently released a list of the biggest beneficiaries of the subsidy, who include some of Nigeria’s richest people – the owners of fuel-importing firms.
Nigerians are heavy users of fuel, not just for cars but to power generators that many households and businesses use to cope with the country's erratic electricity supply
Nigeria’s two main labor organizations, the Trades Union Congress and the Nigerian Labor Congress, issued a joint statement condemning the move.
“We alert the populace to begin immediate mobilization towards the D-Day for the commencement of strikes, street demonstrations and mass protests across the country,” the statement said.
“This promises to be a long-drawn battle; we know it is beginning, but we do not know its end or when it will end.
“We are confident the Nigerian people will triumph.”
Labor activist John Odah told the BBC’s Network Africa programme that, judging from past experience, he doubted that the government would use the money saved by removing the subsidy to help ordinary people.
John Odah said that the subsidy should have been retained until Nigeria’s refineries had been brought up to scratch.
“As an oil-producing country, we ought not to be importing fuel in the first place,” he said.
John Odah also pointed out that Nigeria does not have many commuter railways, so people have little choice but to use motorcycle and minibus taxis, whose prices are closely linked to the price of petrol.
Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil producer but most of the available 2 million barrels per day are exported in an unrefined state.
The country lacks refineries and infrastructure so has to import refined products such as petrol, which is expensive.
However, with the price of fuel much cheaper in Nigeria than in neighboring countries, the subsidy led to widespread smuggling.
Nigerians are heavy users of fuel, not just for cars but to power generators that many households and businesses use to cope with the country’s erratic electricity supply.
The measures just announced could add to the difficulties faced by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who declared a state of emergency on Saturday in areas hit by Islamist violence.