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Americans are being urged to stay away from downtown Vicenza, Italy, on Saturday because of a huge demonstration planned against a larger U.S. presence in the city.

The U.S. Embassy issued an alert Monday on its Web site, reporting that up to 70,000 people could be taking part in various protests over U.S. use of a part of the Dal Molin airfield in order to house the 173rd Airborne Brigade in a single city. The 173rd, which stood up in Vicenza in 2000 and is headquartered at Caserma Ederle, currently has two battalions in Italy and four more at bases in Germany.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi announced that Italy won’t oppose the use of the airfield, citing a decision by the local council to support it and a promise made by the previous government headed by conservative Silvio Berlusconi. But crowds of various sizes have demonstrated against the expansion — and U.S. policies in general — several times in the past few months.

The U.S. Army Garrison-Vicenza issued a press release Tuesday, repeating the embassy’s warning about the protests, though some of the details were different. It said about 30,000 demonstrators were expected to participate, starting at the main train station.

Many of those participating are expected to arrive on public transportation from other areas of Italy and perhaps abroad.

Although the protest is expected to be peaceful, some elements that might participate “have been disruptive in the past,” according to the embassy posting.


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