Tens of thousands of youths demonstrated around Italy today against the U.S. bombing of Libya, which has brought Italy to a state of war alert it has not experienced since World War II.

As the Italian government held a series of urgent meetings on yesterday's Libyan missile attack on Lampedusa island in the Mediterranean, demonstrators in about 80 Italian cities and towns took to the streets in the most virulently anti-American demonstrations here in more than a decade.

Organized by various leftist parties including the Communists, demonstrators marched through Rome and other urban areas shouting, "Yankee go home" and "NATO get out of Italy" to protest the U.S. military action.

"Italy at war?" asked columnist Sandro Viola in the daily La Repubblica. "What is certain is that for the first time in 40 years military forces of another nation have attempted to attack our territory."

Libyan Ambassador Abdul Rahman Shalgam defended the missile attack on Lampedusa, Italy's southernmost island, during a press conference at his embassy. He reiterated that Libya would strike at "any place that has been, or is going to be used by the Americans against us."

The defiant declaration raised a controversy here over the ambassador's continuing presence in Rome in the wake of the attack on Lampedusa.

The Craxi government has sought repeatedly to dissuade the United States from military actions against Libya out of fear that Italy would be drawn into a confict in the Mediterranean. As one government official noted tonight, "We have been against a military solution because we have always thought that a military confrontation would be hard to control, and that if it went out of control it would be Italy that would suffer most as one of the closest European nations to Libya and a host to U.S. NATO bases."

Italy has also sought to avoid open conflict with Libya because it has from 5,000 to 8,000 citizens working and living in its former North African colony, because it depends on Libya for up to 30 percent of its oil and because Muammar Qaddafi's government owes about 50 Italian firms about $600 million for completed work.

Italy has put its armed forces and police on maximum alert. Ships of the U.S. 6th Fleet have taken positions off Lampedusa along with Italian Navy units, while Italian Air Force jets are on constant patrol.