Protests outside Italian parliament, underlining voters' rage

By Naomi O'Leary

ROME (Reuters) - Around 200 protesters cut up a large mortadella sausage outside Italy's parliament on Friday to protest against the possible election of former Prime Minister Romano Prodi as president, while politicians took part in a tense vote inside the chamber.

Prodi, 73, was first nicknamed after the fatty, pink sausage from his native Emilia Romagna region during his time in office in the 1990s and centre-right opponents were quick to revive the old satirical barbs.

His nomination by centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani has sparked fury among supporters of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Prodi's rival in politics for the best part of two decades.

"He represents a faction, so he can't represent us all," said Giovanni Donzelli, a councillor in Tuscany for the small Brothers of Italy party which is allied to Berlusconi. "It can't be such a divisive figure."

The protests were a sign of the tense political climate in Italy and widespread hostility towards politicians of all parties, underlined by the success of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement in February's inconclusive general election.

"We're in the middle of a crisis and politicians only think of their own interests," said lawyer Fernando Berretto, 60. "It sullies everything they do. They brought Italy to her knees and still they can't see the 5-Star Movement is an alarm bell."

There was no violence, but rival groups traded increasingly heated jeers in the square. A crowd of leftist protesters mocked nearby Berlusconi supporters for voting for "the bunga bunga king".

In return, members of the centre right and at least one far-right group yelled "get a job!" and "fools" and an angry scrum formed between the two clusters.

Police blocked off parliament with fences and riot vans during the vote as the square in front of the 17th-century palace became an open air debating forum, with passersby and local workers on their lunch break joining protesters to air their anger at politicians.

(Reporting by Naomi O'Leary; editing by Mike Collett-White)