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Police fired tear gas at demonstrators on Friday as protests overshadowed the start of the Milan Expo, a global fair the government had been hoped would help to put a new face on Italy after years of economic decline.
Thick clouds of smoke from burning cars filled parts of central Milan, where groups of protesters, their faces masked against the fumes, threw stones and faced off against lines of police in riot gear.
The confrontation came hours after a glitzy opening ceremony at the Expo site, with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi hailing the start of a six-month-long showpiece of culture and technology, that focused on the theme of sustainable food production.
Pope Francis, who spoke via a televised link-up to the opening ceremony, referred to the irony of a global mega-spectacle dependent on corporate sponsorship deals being devoted to sustainable development and feeding the poor. "In certain ways, the Expo itself is part of this paradox of abundance, it obeys the culture of waste and does not contribute to a model of equitable and sustainable development," he said. The real protagonists of the event should be "the faces of the men and women who are hungry, who fall ill and even die because of an insufficient or harmful diet," he said.