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Rome under siege

Army on the streets of Rome will frighten away tourists, says mayor

Jul 31, 2008

He was elected on a right-wing platform of law and order and has vowed to dismantle Roma camps and reduce street crime. But the new Mayor of Rome, a member of the far-right Alleanze Nazionale, has balked at the government plan to put troops on the streets of the Eternal City.

Gianni Alemanno broke ranks with government colleagues yesterday to denounce the deployment of troops in the city. He said that the move would frighten tourists and make Romans feel that they were living under siege.

He insisted that the 1,000 troops to be deployed in Rome would only guard sensitive sites such as embassies, courts, railway stations and ministries. Police would thus be freed for other duties. “Law and order will be combined with welcoming tourists so that Rome does not look like a militarised city,” Mr Alemanno said.

Under a security decree passed by parliament last week 3,000 troops will be deployed in Italian cities for six months, starting on Monday. In Naples, Milan, Turin, Verona, Padua, Bari, Catania and Palermo the soldiers are expected to join police on patrol. Troops will also be used in 16 cities to guard immigrant detention centres.

The centre-left Opposition has dismissed the move as window dressing and Giuseppe Tiani, the head of the SIAP police union, said that mixed patrols were “dangerous operationally and inopportune in a democracy”. In Naples the move was criticised by some personnel at the US navy base. “I wouldn't want to go to New York if the military patrolled,” a naval officer told Stars and Stripes, a newspaper for people serving in the US military.

Ignazio La Russa, the Defence Minister, said that troops would have stop-and-search powers but would leave arrests to the police and would carry pistols but not rifles. “This is not a militarisation of our cities but a clear response to the perceived demand for greater security,” Mr La Russa said.

Marco Minniti, the Shadow Interior Minister, said: “Soldiers patrolling the centres of cities that are our greatest tourist attractions is not a very nice calling card for Italy at the height of the tourist season.”

The Government claimed that more than half of murders and robberies in Italy were carried out by illegal immigrants. The handling of immigrants and Gypsies by the Berlusconi Government has sparked criticism from human rights groups, the Roman Catholic Church and European bodies.

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern this week about “a trend of racism and xenophobia in Italy”. Roberto Maroni, the Interior Minister, rejected this and said that he “denied with indignation” suggestions that Italian police had conducted violent raids on Gypsy camps.

Army on the streets of Rome will frighten away tourists, says mayor

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