vatican men set on fire
Police arrest a Pitchfork protester who threatened to set himself alight in St Peter's Square at the Vatican Reuters

Security forces foiled two men who had threatened to set themselves on fire in St Peter's Square in Vatican City in a protest over Italy's economic crisis.

Carrying flammable liquid, a lighter and blankets, the protesters demanded an audience with Pope Francis and claimed they would burn themselves to death if their request was denied.

They also demanded political asylum in the Holy See.

"There's no work, they don't give you a home, they don't give you anything," one protester told La Repubblica newspaper. "Who doesn't pay taxes is a parasite, let's send them back home.

"If my five children see me doing this they will do the same. This life is s**t!"

st peter's square protest
Demonstrators hold bottles of flammable liquid as they threaten to set themselves alight in St Peter's Square Reuters

They protesters claimed to belong to the Pitchfork movement, although the movement's leaders distanced themselves from their action.

The movement started as a loose grouping of Sicilian farmers concerned about rising taxes and cuts to government funding.

It evolved into a nationwide umbrella group of truckers, small businessmen, the unemployed, low-paid workers, right-wing extremists and Ultras football supporters.

In December the movement staged nationwide protests demanding the removal of the ruling political class, plus tax cuts, lowered fuel prices, and dumping the euro.

The two would-be-suicides were taken into police custody.