In Naples, at least 20 people were arrested and two required medical treatment on Sunday after protesters opposing a rally by the CasaPound party clashed with police near the main train station.
In a statement, the demonstrators claimed that officers in riot gear charged them when they approached a hotel where CasaPound leader Simone Di Stefano was meeting supporters.
However, Naples' chief of police accused the protesters of making trouble in a busy area of the city and said they had deliberately provoked the officers' response.
Photos showed people setting off smoke bombs and firecrackers. Later the demonstrators regrouped outside police headquarters to protest the arrests and continued to set off fireworks, La Repubblica reported.
It was a different story in Venice, where another extreme-right group, Forza Nuova, held a rally the same day.
Around a thousand people gathered at Venice's central train station to protest an appearance by the leader of the neofascist party, Roberto Fiore.
Police moved the FN rally to the other side of the city, where around 60 of the party's supporters attended, flanked by police in riot gear.
Meanwhile counter-protesters, accompanied by members of the leftwing Free and Equal (LeU) movement and the centre-left Democratic Party, marched through the city centre.
#ComiziContro | Forza Nuova e NoGlobal non vengono a contatto, tafferugli evitati a #Venezia Imponente macchina della sicurezza, che ha lavorato bene. Forza Nuova spostata a Ca' di Dio, un migliaio di persone al grido di #veneziaantifa a Santa Lucia #VIDEO https://t.co/qGTMjelY9i pic.twitter.com/4ZjTCIGhOy
— veneziatoday (@veneziatoday) February 18, 2018
Despite fears of violence – which had prompted several local businesses to stay closed, according to Ansa – no incidents were reported.
Cities had been on high alert since clashes broke out at a sit-in against an FN rally in Bologna on Friday, in which at least seven people were hurt. Police used water cannon on protesters after they attempted to break through a cordon, while two people were arrested for throwing objects.
The FN carried out its rally as planned, with around 50 of its supporters surrounded by 100 police officers.
— Local Team (@localteamtv) February 16, 2018
A week earlier, in Piacenza, a carabinieri officer had his shoulder broken by people protesting the opening of a CasaPound office in the city. Twelve people were placed under investigation for violence at the demonstration, including three men suspected of attacking the officer.
Tensions have been running high throughout Italy since a Nigerian man was arrested over the death of a young Italian woman, whose body was found dismembered in the central town of Macerata three weeks ago. Her death was followed by a racially motivated shooting by a local far-right sympathizer, who claimed he wanted to take revenge by targeting other immigrants of African origin.
The two incidents, just weeks before the vote on March 4th, raised the temperature of a campaign already dominated by the issue of immigration, while drawing the left's focus onto far-right extremism.
Neofascist groups “have no place in democracy,” said President of the Lower House Laura Boldrini, a member of the LeU and part of the incumbent government's centre-left alliance, at a campaign stop in front of a mural against fascism in Milan on Sunday. She suggested that such groups should be dissolved.
“Fascism is dead and buried,” retorted Silvio Berlusconi, head of the Forza Italia party that is in an alliance with two rightwing populist parties and currently leading the polls. In a TV appearance on Sunday, he claimed that the Macerata shooter was a lone madman and called antifascism a “dangerous movement”.
In Macerata, meanwhile, a number of groups organized a peaceful demonstration against racism and extremism on Sunday. It followed nationwide demonstrations the weekend prior, when thousands of people across Italy marched in solidarity with the victims of sexist and racist violence.