The demonstration was organised by the right-wing League, the far-right Brothers of Italy and the centre-right Forza Italia parties to protest against the coalition government led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Live streaming on social media showed protesters marching next to each other with a 500-metre-long Italian flag along Via del Corso, leading to the Piazza del Popolo in Rome’s historic centre.

It was the first time that a political protest took place on June 2, the day Italians celebrate the birth of the Italian Republic in 1946.

“There is no better way to pay homage to the Republic than to give voice to those who will not accept an Italy condemned to decline,” Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, said as she joined the protest in Rome.

Later in the day, the same Roman piazza was occupied by about a thousand so-called “orange vest” protesters – inspired by the French Yellow Jackets, and led by former army general Antonio Pappalardo.

Members of the marginal political movement created last year by a retired Carabinieri general have emerged as a virus-denial camp in Italy, the first Western country to be hit by the global pandemic.

The leader of the movement told the protest crowd assembled in the capital’s Piazza del Popolo on Tuesday that children shouldn’t be made to wear masks and he threatened to “slap’’ anyone who did.

Pappalardo added that he refuses to wear a mask himself and said: “These lungs are mine. I will take care of my lungs. Breathing is sacred.’’

The people packing the square didn’t adhere to social distancing guidelines set by the government.

Pappalardo portrayed such containment measures as an infringement of freedom.

Other speakers at the protest asserted that the pandemic “never existed’’ and alleged that politicians had played it up to enhance their own powers.

To date, Italy has registered 33,601 deaths from coronavirus, while around 234,000 people have tested positive for the virus since the outbreak began.