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Britain's Prince Charles meet residents as he visit to the town of Amatrice, which was levelled after an earthquake last year, in central Italy April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

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AMATRICE, Italy (Reuters) - Britain's Prince Charles paid a visit on Sunday to one of the towns in central Italy devastated by a major earthquake last August, a day after locals protested against the government because of aid delays.

The 6.2 magnitude earthquake killed nearly 300 people and destroyed thousands of homes and businesses.

More than 45,000 aftershocks have rattled the region, including an even stronger 6.6 magnitude quake in October, the biggest to strike Italy for 36 years.

The heir to the British throne walked through the so-called red zone of the hill town of Amatrice, one of the hardest-hit areas, surrounded by rubble and collapsed buildings. He also visited temporary homes and a newly-built school.

"I hope you will not have to stay in this situation for long," the prince was reported to have said to the families living in small prefabricated homes on the edges of the town.

Prince Charles also laid flowers on top of a simple rock used as memorial to the victims and ate Amatriciana pasta, a famous local dish.

Citizens from the central Italian regions devastated by tremors staged protests on Saturday outside parliament in Rome and in smaller Italian cities.

They called on the national government to speed up reconstruction efforts, simplify rules for building new homes and apply tax breaks to residents of quake-hit regions.

They also threatened to block the main highway connecting Rome to the central regions of the country if the government did not schedule negotiations with them within a week.

Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni responded that reconstruction was an absolute priority for the government.

The visit to Amatrice was part of a six-day visit to Italy by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. They are scheduled to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Matteo Berlenga in Amatrice and Giulia Segreti in Rome; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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