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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Roman Empire’

Italy populists protest passage of revised election rules

October 12, 2017

ROME (AP) — Backers of Italy’s populist 5-Star Movement are protesting the initial passage of revised election rules they contend are designed to foil their bid to gain national power for the first time.

The Chamber of Deputies — the lower chamber of the Italian Parliament — approved the rules late Thursday despite defections by some lawmakers from parties that are officially backing the changes. Supporters include the main governing Democratic Party, loyalists of center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi, and the Northern League, a right-wing party gaining ground in opinion polls.

The Senate now takes up the bill. The 5-Star Movement, Parliament’s largest opposition party, opposes the changes, which reward parties in election coalitions. The Movement refuses to participate in coalitions and hopes to win Italy’s premiership in elections due by early 2018.

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Italy quake rocks resort island of Ischia, at least 1 dead

August 22, 2017

ROME (AP) — An earthquake rattled the Italian resort island of Ischia at the peak of tourist season Monday night, killing at least one person and trapping a half dozen others under collapsed homes. Police said all but one of the people known to be trapped were responding to rescuers and were expected to be extracted alive, including three children. One person, however, wasn’t responding, raising worries the death toll could increase, said Giovanni Salerno of the financial police.

Italy’s national volcanology institute said the temblor struck a few minutes before 9 p.m., just as many people were having dinner. The hardest-hit area was Casamicciola, on the northern part of the island.

There was great discrepancy in the magnitude reported: Italy’s national vulcanology agency put the initial magnitude at 3.6, though it later revised it to a 4.0 sustained magnitude. It put the epicenter in the waters just off the island and a depth of 5 kilometers (3 miles). The U.S. Geological Survey and the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center gave it a 4.3 magnitude, with a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles).

While such discrepancies and revisions are common, Italian officials complained that the Italian agency’s initial low 3.6-magnitude greatly underestimated the power of the temblor. At least one hotel and parts of a hospital were evacuated. A doctor at the Rizzoli hospital, Roberto Allocca, told Sky TG24 that some 26 people were being treated for minor injuries at a makeshift emergency room set up on the hospital grounds. He said the situation was calm and under control.

Salerno confirmed one woman was killed by falling masonry from a church. At least three people were extracted from the rubble alive, the civil protection said, adding that the island had sustained at least 14 aftershocks.

Civil protection crews, already on the island in force to fight the forest fires that have been ravaging southern Italy, were checking the status of the buildings that suffered damage. Other rescue crews, as well as dogs trained to search for people under rubble, were arriving on ferries from the mainland.

Together with the nearby island of Capri, Ischia is a favorite island getaway for the European jet set, famed in particular for its thermal waters. Casamicciola was the epicenter of an 1883 earthquake that killed more than 2,000 people.

The quake came just two days shy of the one-year anniversary of a powerful 6.2-magnitude earthquake that devastated several towns in central Italy. That temblor last Aug. 24 killed more than 250 people in Amatrice and beyond and set off a months-long series of powerful aftershocks that emptied many towns and hamlets of their people.

Migrant pressures grow; Italy presses EU nations to do more

June 29, 2017

ROME (AP) — Italy’s leader pressed his European Union allies Thursday to take in more migrants, saying the relentless arrival of tens of thousands on Italy’s shores is putting his country under enormous strain. He spoke after 10,000 migrants were pulled to safety from the Mediterranean Sea in the last few days alone and were heading to Italy.

With an election due in less than a year, political pressure is building on Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni’s center-left government to push for relief from fellow EU nations. Flanked by EU national leaders and EU officials at a news conference in Berlin, Gentiloni said the growing number of arrivals “puts our welcome capability to a tough test.”

Italy has already taken in hundreds of thousands of migrants in the last few years. Some estimates say 220,000 migrants could land in Italy by the end of 2017. In addition to those who arrive, over 2,000 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year, according to the U.N.

“It’s a country under pressure, and we ask the help of our European allies,” Gentiloni said, when asked about reports that Italy is considering blocking its ports to non-Italian NGO ships that pluck to safety migrants from distressed dinghies and other unseaworthy boats off the Libyan coast.

While acknowledging that European nations take part in patrols to deter smuggling in the central Mediterranean, Gentiloni said the job of caring for the migrants “remains in one country only” — Italy.

On Sunday, Italy’s anti-migrant Northern League Party teamed up with the center-right opposition forces led by former Premier Silvio Berlusconi and triumphed in several mayoral races. The Democrats, Italy’s main government party, took an embarrassing drubbing.

Many Italian towns say they just can’t handle hosting hundreds of migrants any more. Right-wing parties remind citizens that Italians themselves are suffering from high unemployment and a practically flat economy.

In one port alone Thursday, in Reggio Calabria, 1,066 migrants disembarked from the Save the Children rescue ship Vos Hestia. Among them were 241 unaccompanied minors. This ship’s rescued migrants came from Eritrea, Bangladesh, Somalia and several sub-Saharan nations of Africa and included a four-day-old boy. Six migrants had chicken pox and some 250 showed signs of scabies, so officials set up pressurized showers.

From 2015 to 2016, the number of unaccompanied minors doubled to more than 25,000, according to the Interior Ministry. Populist leader Beppe Grillo, founder of the opposition 5-Star Movement, slammed as a “suicide pact” the accord that lets the European sea patrol off Libya bring all the migrants they rescue to Italy.

There’s also concern that if Italy, a stalwart supporter of the EU, sours on Brussels because it feels abandoned on the migrant issue, the EU’s very survival itself could be compromised. “Either the Union can shake itself up, or the fear is that it can collapse definitively,” said Francesco Laforgia, a left-leaning lawmaker.

“The situation is no long sustainable,” Nicola Latorre, head of the Senate’s defense commission, told the Il Messaggero daily. “Obviously saving human lives remains a priority. But it’s unthinkable that Italy does it all by itself.”

That Italy is considering prohibiting some NGO ships from bringing migrants to southern Italian ports reflects growing frustration in the country toward others in the EU, said Elizabeth Collett, director of MPI Europe, an independent research institution studying migration in Europe.

“What they see is an insufficient willingness of other countries to step up and help out,” Collett said. One rescue group, SOS Mediterranee, expressed understanding, saying Italy has been “at the front line of this humanitarian tragedy for too long.”

Still, their statement said: “NGOs are not the cause, nor the solution, to this humanitarian crisis but a response to the failure of the European Union to find a common approach to the tragedy.” Earlier Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini insisted that other EU countries share the burden of caring for migrants. But previous plans hatched in Brussels to make other EU countries take in a fixed number of migrants from Italy and Greece have largely stalled.

Several central and eastern European EU members — including large countries like Hungary and Poland — have flat out refused to take in a quota of the asylum-seekers. French President Emmanuel Macron, in Berlin along with Gentiloni, insisted that France would do its part as far as those deserving asylum. But Macron noted that more than 80 percent of the people flowing into Italy from across the sea have been described as economic migrants.

“How to explain to our fellow citizens, to our middle classes, that suddenly there is no limit anymore?” the French leader asked.

AP reporter Geir Moulson contributed from Berlin.

Center-right set to win top race in Italian mayoral runoffs

June 26, 2017

ROME (AP) — Exit polls early Monday indicated that center-right forces, including an anti-immigrant party, were headed to victory in several key mayoral runoffs, two weeks after a first round of voting saw most populist candidates eliminated in all big cities up for grabs.

An election alliance of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s conservatives, the anti-migrant Northern League party and a right-wing party with its power base in Rome, appeared to have triumphed in the most-watched race, Genoa, a working class port city in the Liguria region which had long been a stronghold for the political left.

In Sunday’s runoffs, center-left alliances anchored by former Premier Matteo Renzi’s Democrats had been hoping for support from voters who backed losing populist 5-Star Movement candidates in the June 11 first round. In that vote, the Movement, which bills itself as anti-establishment, failed to capture any main city, including Genoa, where 5-Star founder-comic Beppe Grillo lives.

National elections for Parliament and the premiership are due by spring 2018. In the past, local voting results didn’t always correlate with national elections to choose a new Parliament in Rome as well as premier.

But conservative party leaders, buoyed by the makings of victory in Genoa and some other smaller cities Sunday, touted the runoff results as a possible formula for a winning team of parties when national elections are held.

“I think the center-right can tranquilly stay together on a national level too,” Liguria Gov. Giovanni Toti told Sky TG24 TV. Toti is a leader in Forza Italia, the party founded by media mogul and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi. He noted that in Genoa on Sunday, the winning ticket grouped together local forces from center-right Forza Italia, the Northern League party, and a right-wing party with a Rome power base.

In the affluent northern city of Parma, incumbent mayor Federico Pizzarotti, a former 5-Star politician who became disenchanted with Movement after Grillo declined to back him in a probe in which the mayor was eventually cleared, appeared headed to re-election on a ticket grouping various civic forces.

Italy exit polls: Populists trailing in main mayors’ races

June 12, 2017

ROME (AP) — First exit polls indicate candidates from a populist movement did poorly in the main Italian mayoral races, with the leading candidates coming from both the traditional center-right and center-left camps.

Right after voting ended late Sunday night, pollsters for both state TV and private TV said their samplings indicated the anti-euro 5-Star Movement would fail even to make runoffs in the four top races, including a big setback in Genoa, which is home to Movement founder, comic Beppe Grillo.

The local races “put the brakes on the Movement’s” rise, headlined La Stampa, the daily in Turin, a major city where only a year earlier the triumph of the populists’ candidate there for mayor fueled 5-Stars’ national ambitions.

Substantial actual results were not expected until sometime Monday morning. But if exit samplings prove accurate, voters delivered stinging defeats to the populists, keen on gaining the premiership for the first time via national elections due in 2018.

The anti-euro party ran candidates in some 225 of 1,000 races. In Genoa, as well as in the other main city up for grabs, Palermo, Sicily, the top two vote-getters, according to the exit polls, were shaping up to be candidates from center right and center left.

Runoffs will be held on June 25 in races where no one clinches more than 50 percent of the ballots. Until Grillo’s Movement started gaining ground in the last few years, Italy’s political scene had been dominated for a quarter-century by center-right coalitions, led by media mogul and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, and center-left alliances, currently led by ex-premier and Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi.

Only a year ago, the 5-Stars dealt the Democrats embarrassing losses in Rome and Turin mayoral races. But a generally lackluster performance by 5-Star Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi, leading an administration dogged by scandals, has had many analysts wondering if the shine was fading for the Movement.

Turin’s 5-Star Mayor Chiara Appendino initially received high marks, but lately has faced criticism, especially about security when panicked soccer fans watching a match in a Turin square recently set off an injury-causing stampede.

Renzi resigned the premiership in December after miscalculating that Italians would back his government’s constitutional reforms in a referendum. Exit polls indicated the 5-Stars’ hopes to make inroads in the south also would be dashed.

Leoluca Orlando, a center-left figure who made his name as an anti-Mafia maverick in the 1980s, appeared to be leading in his bid for a fifth mandate as mayor of Palermo, Sicily, exit polls indicated.

At least one town needing a mayor won’t get one. No one offered to be a candidate in San Luca, a remote town in the Calabrian mountains and dubbed the “mamma of the ‘ndrangheta” crime syndicate for its notoriety as a stronghold of mobsters, Sky TG24 TV reported. Officials appointed by the Interior Ministry will continue to run the town of 3,900 residents until elections can eventually be held.

Populist campaign for minimum income draws Italian marchers

May 20, 2017

ROME (AP) — The head of Italy’s populist 5-Star Movement led thousands in a 15-mile march Saturday to demand a guaranteed minimum income for citizens as the party seeks to widen its appeal in hopes of clinching the national power for the first time.

Comic Beppe Grillo described the march between the Perugia and Assisi, another Umbrian town 25 kilometers (15 miles) away, as a way to express support for human dignity. The 5-Stars contend that aid for the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have arrived in Italy after being rescued at sea in the last few years risks coming at the expense of Italians struggling during the nation’s economic slump.

Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis, who championed the needs of the poor. “It’s we who are the real Franciscans,” Grillo told reporters. The push for a guaranteed income for Italian citizens is a major theme of the 5-Stars, who are keen on gaining national power in the next parliamentary election, which is due by spring 2018.

The 5-Stars have been courting centrist voters and have been expressing openness toward dialogue with the Catholic church on issues like poverty. In Milan, thousands turned out to march against racism and other forms of intolerance toward migrants and foreigners.

In the past year, some Italians have protested against migrants being housed in their towns while asylum requests are processed. Senate President Pietro Grasso addressed the Milan gathering, calling the rally a response to those who want to erect “cultural, ideological walls” against migrants. He said the outpouring of citizens sends a message that Milan and other places welcoming foreigners are “modern, cosmopolitan, democratic.”

“Those who are born in this country, go to school with our children, root for our teams” are Italian, Grasso declared, in a reference to the minimum income that populists want to grant only to Italian citizens.

Many of the migrants rescued at sea hope to eventually reach northern Europe, to find relatives and better job prospects. On Saturday, the Italian coast guard said some 2,100 migrants had been rescued at sea and were being to safety in Italy, including a 6-week-old boy. One body was also recovered.

Italy has been shouldering the bulk of the tens of thousands of migrants and refugees who have come across the Mediterranean Sea this year. A European Union deal for several northern European countries to take in many of those rescued migrants has failed to relieve Italy of caring for so many in need.

Nighttime vandals smash some 70 headstones at Rome cemetery

May 12, 2017

ROME (AP) — Vandals have struck overnight at Rome’s largest cemetery, smashing and shattering some 70 headstones and memorial monuments. Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi decried the rampage at Verano Cemetery as a “vile deed.” Officials said Catholic and Jewish headstones were among the smashed monuments.

Glass frames of loved ones decorating graves were shattered, and flower vases toppled. Italian news reports said investigators suspect that a group of youths slipped into the cemetery when it was closed at night and vandalized the tombstones.

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