ROME, Oct 13 (Reuters) Tens of thousands of Italian conservatives protested in the ancient Roman Forum today against the centre-left government of Romano Prodi, among them a few hundred black-shirted right-wingers giving the Nazi salute.
Gianfranco Fini, leader of the National Alliance which is one of the biggest parties in the centre-right opposition, told the rally he believed the days of Prime Minister Prodi's 17-month-old government were numbered.
''I don't think it will be long now,'' said Fini, who in his youth was a leader of the neo-Fascist movement inherited from wartime dictator Benito Mussolini but now defines his AN as a mainstream European conservative party.
''This is not just a great political demonstration but a huge act of love by people who love their country,'' he told the crowd in the shadow of the Colosseum.
Fini served as Italian foreign minister in the government of Silvio Berlusconi, who was beaten by Prodi in 2006 elections.
The AN protest came a day before core supporters of Prodi's coalition vote for a leader for the new Democratic Party, result of a merger of two parties which Prodi hopes will give his shaky Catholic-to-communist government some much-needed stability.
But, despite overseeing a spurt of growth for an economy which is the laggard of the eurozone, and surging tax revenues, Prodi's government has fallen 10 points behind in opinion polls.
''Romano Prodi must go home,'' said another AN leader, Gianni Alemanno.
One group of protesters was dressed in prison uniforms, with plastic balls and chains, and wore masks with the faces of Prodi and his cabinet ministers.
One AN spokesman estimated the number of protesters at half a million people. Reuters witnesses put the total at closer to 20,000 or 30,000 people.
REUTERS SYU RAI2347