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Rioters in Milan smash shopfronts, throw smoke bombs as Expo opens

Phil Han, Special to, in Milan, Italy
Violent protests rock Milan

Milan has been waiting since 2008 for this day and now it has finally come—but takeoff for the World Expo 2015 looks to be overshadowed by violent protests.

The turnstiles and doors officially opened on Friday in Italy's commercial and fashion capital.

But opening day excitement for the six-month-long commercial event wasn't necessarily present among the crowds on Friday. The wet weather may have dampened the number of visitors to the event on its first day—with noticeably empty entrances and security checkpoints.

Phil Han, Special to

Meanwhile, thousands of protesters marched through the streets of Milan behind a banner reading "No Expo, Eat the Rich," according to Reuters.

The No-Expo movement has been critical of the amount of money the government has poured into the event, when there are fears of austerity and cuts to public services.

A large anti-expo march through the center of Milan was overtaken by anarchists groups that smashed shopfronts and clashed with police.

There were several banks with smashed-in doors and windows and the streets were strewed with detritus.

Teargas was used by riot police to try and disperse parts of the crowd. Although most of the march was peaceful, around 200 demonstrators threw rocks, in addition to setting off flare and smoke bombs.

Phil Han, Special to

A large six-story building was torched, as well as the ground floor of a two-story building. At least six cars were burnt and fire crews were deployed at multiple spots across the city.

Associated Press television footage appeared to show police using water cannons on protesters.

Friday is Labor Day, also known as May Day, and is a traditional occasion for anti-capitalist protests.

'Feeding the Planet'

The Expo is bringing together 145 countries from around the world with the theme "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life."

The organizers are expecting up to 20 million visitors during the length of the Expo and as many as 250,000 on a particularly busy day. However, estimates for attendee numbers on Friday were only in the tens of thousands.

Italy is hoping for a big economic boost because of the Expo, which is held every five years in different world location and is designed to showcase innovation.

Some say the Milan Expo could generate up to $10 billion. But the event has come under criticism, particularly for skyrocketing costs and a number of corruption scandals.

Read More Has Italy wasted this billion-dollar opportunity?