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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Roman Empire’

Sicilian town had long, bloody past before “Godfather” fame

November 17, 2017

CORLEONE, Sicily (AP) — Corleone is a Sicilian medieval hill town whose bloody past began generations before “The Godfather” novels and films borrowed its name for a fictional Mafia don. It is the birthplace of several convicted real-life Mafia bosses, among them Salvatore “Toto” Riina, the reputed “boss of bosses,” who died Friday at 87 in a prison ward of a northern Italian hospital.

Corleone has witnessed recent signs of rebellion against an entrenched Mafia culture where religious pageants pay tribute to reigning mob bosses, with processions stopping outside the dons’ homes. A town square is named after two top anti-Mafia magistrates slain by Cosa Nostra bombings in 1992. Inaugurated in 2000, an anti-Mafia museum, together with the International Center for Anti-Mafia documentation, also educates visitors about the fallen heroes in the war against the Sicilian crime syndicate.

When native son Riina was arrested in 1993 in Palermo, schoolchildren ran into Corleone’s streets in joy, rallying behind a banner that read “Finally” — their jubilation a reflection of a new and burgeoning resistance to the Mafia by a younger generation of Sicilians.

But the Mafia’s grip on the town isn’t easily removed. Corleone’s City Hall is currently run by authorities sent from Rome’s Interior Ministry after the municipal government was dissolved by government decree due to Mafia infiltration. Local public contracts have long been a traditional source of income for Cosa Nostra.

Whether the end of the Riina era will spell change for Corleone was unclear for its citizenry. Whoever his successor as the top Mafia boss may be, “I know for sure there is still a (Mafia) mentality here that we need to dismantle,” said Mario Alfieri a Corleone pharmacist.

An employee of the anti-Mafia museum, Lorena Pecorella, noted that Riina died in prison, “where it was right for him to die.” She said the town’s negative heritage as a synonym for the Mafia will be difficult to eradicate.

“We know the negative heritage he is leaving us young people,” she said. Old-timers in the town can recall when in the 1950s and 1960s, parents warned children to come home straight from school because Mafia rivalry was exploding into a killing nearly every day. Riina’s predecessor as a top boss, Luciano Liggio, emerged from a string of bloody murders, including one series triggered by the killing of a Mafia don who was a prominent town physician.

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Sicily vote neck-and-neck between center-right and populists

November 06, 2017

MILAN (AP) — Early results in a regional election in Sicily show the center-right widening its advantage over the populist 5-Star movement. Less than half of the Italian island’s 4.6 million eligible voters turned out Sunday for the last major electoral test before a national election due next year.

With 37 percent of the vote counted early Monday, center-right candidate Nello Musumeci was leading with 38.9 percent of the vote ahead of 5-Star candidate Giancarlo Cancelleri who had 35.6 percent support. The Democratic Party, which leads the central Rome government, was lagging badly at 18.4 percent.

A victory by Musumeci would restore the island’s traditional political order after five years of a center-left administration, while a victory by the 5-Star movement would hand the populist party control of its first region in Italy.

The Sicily vote has turned into a proxy of sorts for national politics. All the major national party leaders, including former Premier Silvio Berlusconi for the center-right, 5-Star Movement founder Beppe Grillo and Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi had converged on the island in recent weeks to stump for their candidates.

Musumeci, a former Catania provincial president, has been backed by Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the anti-EU Northern League and the right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party.

Italy’s 2 richest regions seek more autonomy from Rome

October 22, 2017

MILAN (AP) — Voters in the wealthy northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto are heading to the polls to decide if they want to seek greater autonomy from Rome, riding a tide of self-determination that is sweeping global politics.

While the twin referendums Sunday are non-binding, a resounding “yes” vote would give the presidents of the neighboring regions more leverage in negotiations to seek a greater share of tax revenue and to grab responsibility from Rome. The leaders want more powers in areas such as security, migration, education and the environment.

Lombard President Roberto Maroni has lowered expectations, saying he would be happy with a 34 percent turnout among the region’s 7.5 million voters, equal to the national turnout in a 2001 constitutional referendum.

The Veneto autonomy drive dies if voter turnout is below 50 percent plus one of the region’s 3.5 million voters. Even though the referendums — which are approved by Italy’s constitutional court — don’t seek independence, the autonomy drive is a powerful threat to Rome’s authority. Together, Veneto and Lombardy account for 30 percent of GDP and nearly one-quarter of the nation’s electorate.

Both regions are run by the anti-migrant, anti-Europe Northern League, which has long given up its founding goal of secession as it seeks a national profile. Also supporting the referendum is former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the populist 5-Star Movement.

With the Democratic Party urging its voters to abstain, the votes Sunday will measure the mood ahead of a national election next year, when Berlusconi says he will make autonomy a goal for all of Italy’s regions.

Critics of the referendum argue that the non-binding vote carries no legal weight, is not needed to trigger autonomy negotiations and is a costly waste of resources. Yet such arguments play into the hands of the “yes” campaigners, who see such put-downs as part of an anti-democratic, elite, centrist decision-making in Rome. Those sentiments have been echoed in the Catalan independence drive in Spain, in the U.S. election of Donald Trump as president and in Britain’s vote to leave the 28-nation European Union.

The Italian constitution already grants varying levels of autonomy to five regions in recognition of their special status: the largely German-speaking Trentino-Alto Adige; the French-speaking Aosta; the islands of Sardinia and Sicily; and the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia for its position on the border with then-Yugoslavia as a Cold War hedge.

Veneto was twice denied by the constitutional court to chance to hold a referendum for autonomy before a 2001 constitutional change that allowed Italy’s 15 regions to seek autonomy. These votes Sunday are the first referendums to pose the question to voters, while Emilia Romagna, a center-left region, has recently opened talks with Rome on greater autonomy without a popular vote.

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.

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.

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