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Italian police, protesters clash over state broadcaster RAI's Gaza stance

NAPLES, Italy (Reuters) - Italian police and demonstrators clashed in the southern city of Naples on Tuesday in front of the offices of state broadcaster RAI following a protest over the company's coverage of the conflict in Gaza.

The protesters accused RAI management of supporting Israel and ignoring the plight of Palestinians trapped in Gaza.

"Palestine will be free," the crowd chanted before police in riot gear and wielding truncheons pushed them away from the gates of the RAI building.

The protest was called after RAI distanced itself from an appeal made by rapper Ghali to "stop the genocide" during the closing night of the hugely popular song festival Sanremo at the weekend, which is watched by most households in Italy.

Ghali did not mention Israel or Gaza by name.

In an angry response to the Italian-Tunisian rapper, the Israeli ambassador to Rome wrote on the X social media platform that the festival had been "exploited to spread hatred and provocation in a superficial and irresponsible way".

Appearing on RAI the following day, Ghali said he had made calls for peace throughout his career. "People feel that they (risk) losing something if they support peace."

During the same programme, a letter written by Rai's chief executive Roberto Sergio was read out in which he expressed his support for "the people of Israel and the Jewish community".

He recalled the Israeli men, women and children killed by Hamas militants on Oct. 7, but made no mention of Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli forces in the subsequent war, angering many pro-Palestinian sympathisers in Italy.

"The next time, RAI should think twice before publicly saying that it is on the side of Israel in the genocide", one of the protesters said on Tuesday, speaking through a megaphone.

Five police officers and five protesters were injured in the clashes, Italian press agency ANSA reported.

Initial strong support for Israel in Italy following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack has ebbed as the number of Palestinians civilians killed by Israel has soared.

A poll published on Jan. 29 said 58% of Italians thought Israel did not have the right to continue bombing Gaza, with only 26% saying they did.

RAI's critics say it has fallen under the sway of the country's right-wing coalition government, which has been highly supportive of Israel.

RAI "does not represent Italy or the new generations", journalist and author Roberto Saviano said on X.

(Reporting by Alessandro Parodi, Editing by Crispian Balmer, William Maclean)