Western society found to be pregnant with deep-seated social and racial strains

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Violent clashes erupted in Milan between police and demonstrators Friday, marring the start of the Milan Expo, a world fair that Italy had expected would boost its economically-struggling image yet exposed deep-seated tensions in Western society instead.

VIOLENT CLASHES

In Milan, a peaceful demonstration kicked off on the opening day of the World Expo 2015, bringing about 30,000 people onto the streets of Italy’s leading financial, commercial and fashion city.

The “No Expo” march, however, soon turned violent as groups of masked protesters smashed windows of shops and banks, torched several vehicles and rubbish bins and used firecrackers and petrol bombs to protest against the six-month food-themed global event.

Police in riot gear fired tear gas at infuriated rock-throwing demonstrators while firefighters deployed water cannons to put out flames engulfing burning cars.

The Milan-based Corriere della Sera newspaper said around 500 people, including Italians and foreigners, were the authors of the attacks.

The violence left the center of Milan looking like a battle zone. Eleven police officers suffered minor injuries and a number of protesters were detained, but there was no immediate official estimate of the damage.

“The authentic face of Milan is the positive, noble and handsome one displayed to the world and the future at Expo’s opening, not that of these vandals who confront the security forces, to whom the government is very grateful,” Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said in a statement.

REASONS BEHIND THE UNREST

The protesters were angered by the Expo’s exploitation of workers by offering precarious contracts and its reliance on volunteers. Many young activists voiced their strong opposition to the world fair in a straightforward manner.

Critics of the Expo also argued the event is a waste of public funds and much of the investment poured into the project has been lost to corruption that resulted in cost overruns and construction hold-ups.

Last year, a corruption scandal hit the event organizers, which led to the arrest of several officials, while visitors on the opening day complained that many of the pavilions and exhibits were not fully operational.

The protesters were also angered by the involvement of multinationals like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, whose interest-seeking philosophies were accused of going against the Expo’s theme “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life.”

MOUNTING TENSIONS

This is the second violent incident the world has seen in less than a week, revealing that tensions in Western society are mounting.

In Baltimore, the largest city in the U.S. State of Maryland, protests following a young African-American man’s death in police custody turned into looting, arson and violent confrontations with the police.

Most experts and media representatives, including American ones, pointed out that the Baltimore turmoil exposes another deeply-rooted issue: social inequalities.

“The main reasons of the turmoil are not only racial issues, but also social inequalities, such as inequalities in access to education,” said Michal Baranowski, director of the German Marshall Fund’s Warsaw office.

As The Washington Post said in its article published on Wednesday, more than half of the neighborhood’s households earned less than 25,000 U.S. dollars a year, according to a 2011 Baltimore Health Department report.

And more than one in five adults were out of work — double the citywide average. One in five middle school students in the neighborhood missed more than 20 days of school, as did 45 percent of the neighborhood’s high schoolers, The Washington Post said.

In Milan, Italy hopes the event could bolster its international standing and struggling economy, with 20 million visitors expected over the six months, producing a 10-billion-euro (around a 11.2-billion-U.S.-dollar) boost to the economy.

However, a series of issues stemming from preparing the Expo has tried the patience of Italian activists. They said the Expo is based on the exploitation of young volunteers and that its environmental conception has been tarnished by the involvement of corporations such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.

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