Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Land of the Roman Empire’

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.

Italy’s Renzi easily in Democratic Party primary

May 01, 2017

ROME (AP) — Former Premier Matteo Renzi regained the Democratic Party leadership, handily winning a Sunday primary that he hopes will bolster the center-left’s ability to counter growing support for populist politicians in Italy ahead of national elections.

“Forward, together,” Renzi tweeted, invigorated by his comeback after a stinging defeat in a December reforms referendum aimed in part at streamlining the legislative process led him to resign as head of Italy’s government and as leader of his squabbling party.

“The alternative to populism isn’t the elite,” Renzi told supports late Sunday after unofficial results indicated he got more than 70 percent of votes cast nationwide. “It’s people who aren’t afraid of democracy.”

Some politicians predicted that the primary win would embolden Renzi to maneuver seeking to bring national elections ahead of their spring 2018 due date as part of his effort to rein in increasing popularity for the populist, anti-euro 5-Star Movement.

But a top Renzi ally sought to counter that idea. “The government’s horizon is 2018. Starting tomorrow, we’ll work with Premier (Paolo) Gentiloni. Gentiloni’s government is our government,” said Agriculture Minister Maurizio Martina.

Renzi’s party is still the main force in Italy’s center-left coalition government, but opinion polls indicate it is no longer the country’ most popular. Overtaking the Democrats in recent soundings was the 5-Star Movement, whose leader, comic Beppe Grillo, wants a crackdown on migrants, rails against European Union-mandated austerity and opposes Italy belonging to the euro single currency group.

Throughout the day, some 2 million voters lined up at makeshift gazebos in piazzas and street corners, at ice cream parlors, cafes or local party headquarters around the country to cast ballots for a new head of the splintering Democratic Party, whose rank-and-file range from former Communists to former Christian Democrats.

Primary voting was open to anyone 16 years of age of older — the oldest voter was reported to be 105. Holding Democratic Party membership wasn’t a requirement. Trailing far behind in the votes were Justice Minister Andrea Orlando and Puglia region Gov. Michele Emiliano.

In addition to countering the challenge of 5-Star’s popularity, to regain Italy’s premiership, Renzi will have to contend with malcontents and defectors in his own party. A group of mostly former Communists split from the Democrats and formed a small, new party in resentment over both Renzi’s centrist leanings and his authoritarian style.

Renzi’s reputation in politics is one of ruthlessness. In early 2014, he promised then-premier and fellow Democrat Enrico Letta that he wouldn’t undermine the government, only to shortly afterward engineer Letta’s downfall. Renzi then became premier.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella recently insisted that electoral laws must be overhauled before new elections. Currently, there is one set of electoral rules for the lower Chamber of Deputies and a completely different one for the Senate, a consequence of the failed reform referendum.

Italy president hugs those like him who lost family to Mafia

March 19, 2017

ROME (AP) — Italy’s president, whose brother was murdered by Cosa Nostra, traveled on Sunday to an organized crime stronghold to honor hundreds of Italians slain by the country’s crime clans over the past decades.

President Sergio Mattarella also praised the judges, prosecutors, police officers, union leaders, businessmen and politicians who courageously combatted or denounced organized crime. During the ceremony in Locri, a Calabrian town that is a long-time base of the ‘ndrangheta crime syndicate, the names of innocent victims — some caught in the crossfire of turf wars — were read aloud. Among the names was that of the president’s brother, Piersanti Mattarella, the Sicilian governor assassinated in Palermo in 1980.

The event anticipated Italy’s annual remembrance day, occurring later this week, for victims of organized crime. Near Naples, hundreds of scouts filled a church in the mobster-infested town of Casal di Principe to pay tribute to a priest, Giuseppe Diana, who denounced the local Caselesi crime clan of the Camorra syndicate. Diana was shot to death in the church sacristy in 1994.

Mattarella lamented the “Mafia is still strong” and controls or tries to infiltrate much of Italy’s economy. He denounced “gray areas, those of complicity,” which mobsters exploit, a reference to corruptible politicians and public administrators who, investigations have found, help mafiosi win lucrative contracts in construction and social services, such as hospitals.

While rooted for generations in Italy’s underdeveloped south, the ‘ndrangheta, Camorra and other syndicates have also infiltrated businesses in affluent northern Italy. Mobsters have been laundering illicit profits in popular restaurants and cafes in Rome and elsewhere. Legitimate manufacturing businesses in the north turned to the Camorra to illegally dispose of toxic waste to save money and avoid bureaucracy.

Still, progress has come. Young people in Sicily inspired many shopkeepers and industrialists there to stop paying Cosa Nostra “protection” money. Locri Bishop Francesco Oliva insisted Calabria wants to break with a past “stained by the blood of crime feuds that sowed death and desperation.”

Tag Cloud