Thousands of Italian students rally against austerity in Rome

* Students, teachers protest against Monti's cuts

* Far right group, anti-fascists also plan rallies

ROME, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Several thousand students and

teachers marched through central Rome on Saturday to protest

against austerity measures imposed by Prime Minister Mario

Monti's government that have cut into education spending.

Appointed a year ago when Italy came close to a Greek-style

debt crisis, Monti has pushed through painful tax hikes and

spending cuts to try to rein in public finances at a time when

schools and universities say they desperately need more support.

"We need to fight for our rights. This government doesn't

represent us and these austerity measures and all the cuts

they've introduced are totally anti-democratic," said student

protester Tommaso Bernardi.

Several other protests are due to take place in Rome later

on Saturday including a rally organised by a far right group

that opposes the Monti government as well as an anti-fascist

march.

Police have organised different routes and times for the

rallies to reduce the risk of violence after scuffles broke out

between police and demonstrators during protests on Nov. 14 that

saw the police criticised for heavy-handed tactics.

"We need to change this country, starting from investments

in schools, universities and culture," said Michele Orezzi, a

university union coordinator, saying that Italy's education

system was "crumbling into pieces".

With youth unemployment at about 35 percent, more than three

times the national average, and Monti's austerity policies

biting into education spending, school pupils and university

students have taken an active role in anti-government protests.

Students have occupied schools around Rome in recent weeks

to express their anger and frustration at repeated funding cuts,

chaining gates shut and camping inside classrooms.

Monti has defended his austerity plan, saying he believes

his technocrat government will be remembered for having helped

Italy pull itself out of a deep economic crisis without needing

to resort to external aid.

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