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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Roman Empire’

Marchers protest racism in Italy after Africans are shot

February 10, 2018

ROME (AP) — Marchers protested racism Saturday in several Italian cities and warned against a revival of neo-fascist sentiment amid the campaign for Italy’s March 4 national election. In Macerata, a city in central Italy where a week ago a far-right gunman with neo-Nazi sympathies wounded six African migrants in a drive-by shooting, there were fears the march could trigger violence. Schools, shops and mass transit were shut down protectively for fear of clashes, but the march by several thousand people was peaceful.

Anti-fascist, anti-racism marchers also turned out in Milan, Turin, Rome and Palermo, Sicily, among other cities. In Piacenza, a small city in northern Italy, some anti-fascism demonstrators hurled cobblestones at police and clashed with officers as they protested the opening of a local headquarters for a far-right political group, Sky TG24 TV and the ANSA news agency reported.

Italy’s election campaign has been marked by rising tensions over the country’s migrant population, which in the last few years has swelled by several hundred thousand people, many of them Africans. Most of them were rescued at sea from human traffickers’ boats in the Mediterranean.

Surveys indicate that many Italians blame immigrants for violent crime. Leaders of a center-right campaign alliance, including former Premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-migrant League leader Matteo Salvini, have pledged to quickly deport huge numbers of the migrants if they win power.

Salvini hammered away Saturday at the migrants-bring-violent-crime motif. ANSA quoted him as telling a campaign rally in northern Italy that he couldn’t wait for a March 4 election victory “to start expelling all the illegals one by one, to defend, above all, the women, the girls” who allegedly fear sexual assault by migrants.

In Macerata, the suspected gunman, Luca Traini, was arrested for the Feb. 3 shootings that targeted African migrants. The 28-year-old Italian was a former unsuccessful candidate for Salvini’s party. He has told authorities he had been angered by the death of an 18-year-old Italian woman whose dismembered body was found in two suitcases.

Macerata prosecutors said Saturday that preliminary autopsy results indicated the woman, who had walked away from a drug rehabilitation center, had been likely murdered and not died from a drug overdose. They said four Nigerians, including a local drug dealer, are under investigation in her death.

Among Macerata’s marchers on Saturday was Cecile Kyenge, a former Italian integration minister and a native of Africa. She said marching was a way to protest “the hate that is dividing our country.” __

Annalisa Camilli contributed from Macerata, Italy, to this report.


Igloos warm hearts in old ski town where migrants fill hotel

February 10, 2018

SAN SIMONE DI VALLEVE, Italy (AP) — San Simone, a tiny village in the Italian Alps, once had a thriving ski trade. But financial issues kept the lifts closed this winter. The local hotel now houses about 80 African asylum-seekers who were assigned to live there when they arrived in Italy.

But restaurant owner Davide Midali saw promise in both his village and its new residents. To lure tourists back, he set out to build igloos that could be rented overnight, like ones he had seen in Sweden. That’s how a handful of immigrants unaccustomed to the cold picked up the art of igloo-making.

“When some of them saw me creating these blocks of snow, they voluntarily decided to give a hand to reach a common goal,” Midali said. Working with a small crew of volunteers, Midali built six igloos, each taking four or five days to complete. Omar Kanteh, a Gambian citizen who has been in Italy for nine months, is among the newcomers who embraced the construction project, as well as its friendly foreman.

“God made snow, but this time, man made igloos,” Kanteh said. “It was very strange to me, so I am very excited. This is a new talent in my life.” The igloos, which were set up as a mini-village, sleep 18 altogether and have been fully booked on weekends since mid-January. Curious people stop by to snap photographs or for a peek inside the snow domes. Schools in Milan and Bergamo have brought children up for fieldtrips.

For 100 euros ($123) per person, a couple can dine at Midali’s restaurant, sleep in an igloo and eat an organic breakfast before embarking on a guided snowshoe excursion in the Valle Brembana mountains.

Midali thinks the project has allowed him and the migrants to understand each other a little better, maybe even to serve as an example for others in San Simone. In that way, the connection forged with tools and snow is a small counterpoint to the pre-election campaigning in Italy that has featured right-wing parties pledging to expel thousands of migrants.

“You learn to know these young men, where they are from and their background, and they also learn about our background and life here,” Midali said. Praising Midali’s courage and open-mindedness, Kanteh said he would like to settle in San Simone if his application for Italian asylum is approved.

“He loves me for who I am, and I also love him for who he is,” he said. “It’s not about me being from Africa and him from Europe. We are all from one race.” Cristian Palazzi, president of the local tourism board, said the igloo undertaking project was “a small step to give life to a small community.”

“I cannot guarantee whether this is enough, but for sure this has been a great idea because without it, today San Simone would be dead.”

Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy contributed to this story.

Rising racism taints Italian electoral campaign

February 09, 2018

VERONA, Italy (AP) — When hundreds of hardcore Verona soccer fans chanted “Adolf Hitler is my friend” and sang of their team’s embrace of the swastika, Italian Jewish communities complained, and waited.

Local officials initially dismissed the incident — which was filmed and circulated on social media by the so-called “ultras” themselves — as a “prank.” Condemnation only came several months later, after another video from the same summer party, this time profaning Christian objects, also went viral.

“These episodes should absolutely not be dismissed,” said Bruno Carmi, the head of Verona’s tiny Jewish community of about 100, speaking at the Verona synagogue, which is flanked by two armed police patrols. “In my opinion, whoever draws a simple swastika on the wall knows what it means.”

Racist and anti-Semitic expressions in Italy have been growing more bold, widespread and violent. Anti-migrant rhetoric is playing an unprecedented role in shaping the campaign for the country’s March 4 national election, which many say is worsening tensions and even encouraging violence.

Hate crimes motivated by racial or religious bias in Italy rose more than 10-fold, from 71 incidents in 2012 to 803 in 2016, according to police statistics. The five-year period corresponded with an explosion in migrant arrivals.

The latest violence came Feb. 3 when a right-wing extremist shot and wounded six African immigrants in the small central Italian city of Macerata. Police say the suspect claims to have been acting out of revenge after a Nigerian immigrant was arrested on suspicion of killing and dismembering an 18-year-old teen whose remains were found three days earlier. The shooting drew widespread, but not universal, condemnation.

The attack also had a political taint. The alleged gunman, Luca Traini, was a failed candidate for the right-wing, anti-migrant Northern League last year and had previously flirted with more extreme neo-fascist movements. Police seized Nazi and white supremacist propaganda from his bedroom.

The night before the shooting, the leader of the rebranded League, Matteo Salvini, had cited the teen’s murder in a campaign appearance in Verona, pledging to send home 150,000 migrants if elected. He only dug in further after the attack.

Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who is competing with Salvini for leadership of the center-right coalition, significantly upped the political ante after the shooting. He claimed that 600,000 migrants were in Italy illegally, calling them “a social bomb ready to explode because they are ready to commit crimes,” and threatened to deport many.

“The facts of Macerata in some ways show that in recent years there has been a process of cultural, social and political legitimization of racism that is creating enormous damage, most of all at the expense of people’s lives,” said Grazia Naletto, president of Lunaria, a Rome-based non-governmental agency that compiles a database of racist incidents in Italy.

Lunaria counts 84 cases of racist violence against individuals in the past three years, including 11 racially motivated murders, a statistic that Naletto called unprecedented in Italy. A report on hate for the Italian parliament last summer reported that 40 percent of Italians believe other religions pose a threat, especially the Muslim faith. It also said anti-Semitism is shared by one in five Italians. The IPSOS MORI polling company found that Italy is the least informed country in the world regarding immigration, with most people overestimating by more than three times the number of immigrants living in Italy.

Findings by the swg research institute based in Trieste published in January said the demographic most vulnerable to neo-Nazi ideals are those aged 25-34, and that among Italians overall, 55 percent of those in the lowest income range either indulge in or oppose combating neo-Nazi and neo-fascist ideals.

Experts cite many reasons for the spread of extremism and racist expressions that until recently were mostly relegated to the margins of society. They include a superficial understanding of history, as well as an economy weakened by a long crisis that sidelined many ordinary workers and barred many young people from entering the work force.

More recently, there is the added pressure of migrants arriving from across the Mediterranean, with arrivals nearing 120,000 last year and topping 180,000 the year before. The head of the immigration office at the Verona diocese concedes that many Italians have not accepted that theirs has become a multicultural society, despite the fact that about 9 percent of the nation’s residents are foreigners. The diocese where he works hosts 11 foreign Christian communities, but resistance to integration is entrenched, he said.

“Romanian youths have less trouble integrating than ones from Ghana or Sri Lanka,” the Rev. Giuseppe Mirandola said. “That is to say, we still have difficulty with the color of the skin.” He said even Pope Francis’ calls to welcome migrants in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation have fallen on some deaf ears.

“The theme of immigrants and the fact that Pope Francis insists on their welcome touches very sensitive nerve in some people who refuse this message,” Mirandola said. “While they appreciate the simple style of the pope, on this issue they find themselves ill at ease.”

The audience of some 500 for Salvini’s Verona appearance included farmers, families with children, university students, artists and political activists. Many spoke out against migrants, even before the candidate took the stage.

Luisa Albertini, whose family owns eight orchards in the province, echoed Salvini’s rhetoric of a migrant invasion “because not all are escaping from war. There are people who are taking advantage because they know that they can find everything they want here.”

Alessandro Minozzi, a city councilman from the town of Bolvone, said migrants being housed in the town pose a threat to order. “A person can’t go around peacefully if there are these 100 people who don’t know what to do during the day,” he said.

In the countryside around Verona, it is still possible to read inscriptions of Italy’s Fascist leader Benito Mussolini’s most infamous mottos on the sides of buildings, with some seemingly recently re-painted. Photographs of Mussolini can be readily found at flea markets and newly minted calendars bearing his image sell in newsstands.

And while such items may fall short of an apology for fascism — a crime in Italy — their public display without context can fuel a misunderstanding of history, said Carmi, the Verona Jewish leader. “It was not a golden period for everyone in Italy,” said Carmi, whose great aunt and uncle were among the 8,000 Italian Jews deported to Nazi death camps, where most perished. “For some it was. Certainly not for us.”

Police: Extreme-right gunman shoots 6 Africans in Italy

February 03, 2018

MILAN (AP) — An Italian gunman with extreme right-wing sympathies shot and wounded six African immigrants Saturday in a two-hour drive-by shooting spree, authorities said, terrorizing a small Italian city where a Nigerian man had been arrested days earlier in a teenager’s gruesome killing.

Police photos showed the shooting suspect with a neo-Nazi tattoo prominently on his forehead as he sat in custody and an Italian flag tied around his neck as he was arrested in the central Italian city of Macerata. Authorities identified him as Luca Traini, a 28-year-old Italian with no previous record.

Traini had run for town council on the anti-migrant Northern League’s list in a local election last year in Corridonia, the party confirmed, but its mayoral candidate lost the race. The news agency ANSA quoted friends of his as saying that Traini had previously been affiliated with Italian extremist parties like the neo-fascist Forza Nuova and CasaPound.

The shooting spree came days after the slaying of 18-year-old Pamela Mastropietro and amid a heated electoral campaign in Italy where anti-foreigner sentiment has become a key theme. Italy has struggled with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants in the last few years coming across the Mediterranean Sea in smugglers’ boats.

After the attack, Premier Paolo Gentiloni warned in Rome that “the state will be particularly severe against whoever thinks of feeding the spiral of violence.” In Macerata, Interior Minister Marco Minniti said the gunman had been motivated “by racial hatred,” and had “a background of right-wing extremism with clear references to fascism and Nazism.”

“What happened appears to be a completely random armed retaliation raid,” Minniti said, adding that evidence indicated that while the gunman had planned the attack, he had acted alone. “In a democracy, it is not permitted for individuals to seek justice alone, even if in this case, there is nothing that recalls a notion of justice.”

Authorities said the six wounded — five men and one woman — appeared to be random targets in various parts of the city of 43,000 in Italy’s central Marche region. Italian news reports indicated that the gunman’s trajectory included the area where the Italian murder victim was found and where the prime suspect in her slaying lived.

The identities and nationalities of the shooting victims remained unknown. Hospital officials said late Saturday that one had been treated and released, while the others had either undergone surgery or were facing operations for their injuries. One of them remained in intensive care.

As the violent attack unfolded, police told residents to stay inside and ordered a halt to public transport to limit the casualties. Such violent shootings are rare in Italy, and usually associated with the southern Italian mafia.

A video posted by the il Resto di Carlino newspaper showed the suspect with an Italian flag draped over his shoulders being arrested by armed Carabinieri officers in the city center, near where he apparently fled his car on foot. Italian news reports said a registered gun was found inside the car and the suspect did a fascist salute as he was arrested, but no salute was visible in the video.

The tattoo on Traini’s forehead was that of the Wolfangel, an ancient runic symbol that according to the Anti-Defamation League was appropriated by Nazi Germany and later adopted by neo-Nazis in Europe and the United States.

Macerata Mayor Romano Carancini confirmed that all six victims were black Africans. “They were all of color, this is obviously a grave fact. As was grave what happened to Pamela. The closeness of the two events makes you imagine there could be a connection,” Carancini said.

Mastropietro’s dismembered remains were found Wednesday in two suitcases two days after she walked away from a drug rehab community. A judge on Saturday confirmed the arrest of the main suspect, identified as 29-year-old Innocent Oseghale.

Italy is heading into a general election on March 4 and the head of the rebranded League party, Matteo Salvini, had capitalized on the teen’s killing in campaign appearances even before the shooting Saturday.

Salvini is pledging to deport 150,000 migrants in his first year in office if his party wins control of parliament and he is named premier. That has drawn sharp rebukes that Salvini is using the migrant crisis to foment xenophobia for political gain.

Salvini’s League, which dropped “northern” from its name in a bid for a national following, has joined a center-right coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Giorgia Meloni’s much smaller Brothers of Italy. They are running against Matteo Renzi’s much-splintered center-left Democratic Party and the populist 5-Star Movement.

Salvini told reporters Saturday at a campaign stop in Bologna that he would bring security to Italy. “Whoever shoots is a delinquent, no matter the skin color. It is clear that out-of-control immigration … brings social conflict,” he said.

Senate president Pietro Grasso of the small liberal party Free and Equal chastised Salvini for using the tragedies to gain votes. “Whoever, like Salvini, exploits news events and tragedies for electoral purposes is among those responsible for the spiral of hatred and violence that we must stop as soon as possible,” Grasso said.

Italy’s famous cursing commander wants to be 5-Star lawmaker

January 04, 2018

ROME (AP) — As Italy’s political parties scrambled to solidify coalitions and find candidates for the March 4 parliamentary election, the 5-Star Movement announced Thursday that one would-be lawmaker is the coast guard commander who famously cursed out the captain of the shipwrecked Costa Concordia.

The 5-Stars confirmed Thursday that Gregorio De Falco had nominated himself as a possible candidate. De Falco became a hero in Italy after recordings from the Jan. 13, 2012 Concordia disaster off Tuscany showed that he used colorful expletives to order Capt. Francesco Schettino to return to the doomed cruise ship to make sure all its passengers and crew had evacuated.

Schettino was later convicted of abandoning ship and other crimes related to the deaths of 32 people. The 5-Stars are the largest opposition party in parliament but have ruled out forming coalitions. Recent polls give Italy’s center-right coalition the lead going into the election, with around 40 percent support. Ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi and the head of the anti-immigrant Northern League, Matteo Salvini, discussed strategy and platforms Wednesday ahead of a meeting next week.

Smaller parties, though, were still cobbling together alliances to put forward parliamentary candidates by the Jan. 29 deadline. Italy’s new voting system seeks to encourage stability and coalition-building through the creation of colleges that field candidates, but it has posed problems for niche parties trying to go it alone.

On Thursday, longtime radical leader Emma Bonino announced an alliance of her own after denouncing as undemocratic the new law’s requirement that new or small parties outside parliament get thousands of signatures before being allowed to field candidates. Bonino’s new +Europe party found an ally in the small center-left Democratic Center party, and can skip the signature-gathering effort.

The deal salvaged the longtime alliance between the radicals and the ruling Democratic Party, which has seen factions splinter off in the year since former Premier Matteo Renzi lost a political gamble with a failed referendum. The infighting has contributed to the center-left’s decreasing popularity in recent polls.

The 5-Stars, meanwhile, were having problems of their own after their online self-candidacy platform crashed. The 5-Star candidate for premier, Luigi Di Maio, said Thursday the greater-than-expected digital turnout was proof that the movement, which prides itself on its social media outreach, is the answer to political apathy in Italy.

He announced De Falco’s candidacy with pride, adding that De Falco was joined by thousands of journalists, professors and celebrities who nominated themselves as potential 5-Star candidates. They will be now considered by the movement’s leadership and then put to a vote by its members, part of the “direct democracy” the 5-Star Movement claims as its hallmark.

Italian leader hopes 2018 campaign will avoid fear-mongering

December 28, 2017

MILAN (AP) — With Italy’s parliament nearing the end of its term, Premier Paolo Gentiloni said Thursday that it would be in the country’s best interests “to limit as much as possible the diffusion of fear” during the campaign to elect a new national legislature.

Gentiloni said during his year-end news conference that while the world is full of risks “the more we have an election campaign that veers from the easy sale of fear, the better it will be for the country.”

Gentiloni was meeting later Thursday with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who sometime afterward will dissolve the current parliament in a formal step toward a 2018 general election. Italy’s Democratic Party-led government has survived its full five-year term, but under the leadership of three premiers. Enrico Letta was ousted in a political maneuver by Matteo Renzi, who in turn resigned after a failed referendum, ceding the government last year to Gentiloni.

Gentiloni cited the achievements of his year as head of government, including passage of a law recognizing same-sex unions and another on living wills. He also acknowledged the defeat of legislation that would have accelerated the process of obtaining citizenship for immigrant children born and raised in Italy.

Even before it officially begins, the campaign shows signs of being a bruiser. The Democratic Party has splintered and been weakened following Renzi’s fall from power, while former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia is locked in a struggle with Matteo Salvini’s anti-migrant, anti-euro League for dominance of the center-right.

The vulnerability of the traditional political powers is giving further impetus to populists such as the Five-Star Movement. It remains Italy’s most popular single party, but has refused to join a national coalition with any force.

Political analyst Wolfango Piccoli said the likely outcome of the next election is a hung parliament. Long negotiations resulting in “at best a patched-up deal involving several parties” would follow under that scenario, Piccoli said, making “the outlook for reform negative.”

Pressed several times on whether he would consider continuing on as premier in the new government, Gentiloni deferred, saying he hoped his party would come out on top.

Remains of exiled Italian king to be returned after 70 years

December 16, 2017

ROME (AP) — The remains of exiled King Victor Emmanuel III, whose rule through two world wars led to the end of Italy’s monarchy, are expected to be returned to a family mausoleum near Turin soon, an Italian church said Saturday.

The announcement from the Sanctuary of the Nativity of Mary in Vicoforte came hours after the remains of the king’s late wife, Queen Elena, were secretly transferred to the sanctuary from Montpellier, France, where she died in 1959.

Victor Emmanuel ruled Italy from 1900-1946, when he abdicated in favor of his son, Umberto II, in a desperate bid to preserve the monarchy amid rising republican sentiment following Italy’s disastrous involvement in World War II.

A plebescite favored the birth of the Italian republic, forcing both father and son — Italy’s last king — into exile. Victor Emmanuel died in 1947 in Alexandria, Egypt, where his remains still reside. Umberto died in 1983 in Geneva.

Italy’s post-World War II constitution barred male descendants of the royal House of Savoy from Italian soil as punishment for the family’s support of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The ban was lifted in 2002, and moves to bring royal remains back to Italy began in earnest in 2011.

One of Victor Emmanuel’s great-grandchildren, Emmanuel Filiberto — who along with his father made a triumphant return to Italy in 2002 after the ban was lifted — said he was pleased with the return of his ancestors to Italian soil. But he criticized the secrecy with which Elena’s remains were repatriated, saying he learned of it only from the media.

In an interview with Mediaset’s Tgcom24 Saturday, Filiberto said his grandfather — Umberto II — had always said the remains of exiled members of the House of Savoy should only return if they could be interred in the Pantheon in Rome — the final resting place of many other members of the family.

In a sign of the internecine battles among Europe’s minor royals, Filiberto’s sister appeared to be fully behind the initiative to keep the remains up north near Turin. Another relative, Prince Serge of Yugoslavia, reportedly is seeking to block Victor Emmanuel’s remains from coming back to Italy altogether.

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