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Immigrants riots in southern town

Second day of protests after air-rifle shooting

08 January, 21:57
Immigrants riots in southern town

(ANSA) - Rosarno, January 8 - African immigrants stormed through a southern Italian town for the second time Friday morning, smashing shop windows and overturning rubbish in a second protest after a group of farm workers were hit by air rifles Thursday.

Friday morning's incidents in the Calabrian town of Rosarno were less severe than Thursday night when hundreds of cars were damaged, several people injured, and some immigrants detained after clashes with police.

Immigrants shouted "we are not animals and waved placards saying "Italians here are racist".

For fear of further attacks, shops and schools in Rosarno did not open and many residents stayed home.

But some locals ventured out and protested against the immigrants in the central square where they had to be held back from an approaching immigrant march.

A group of residents clashed with police.

Some 2,000 immigrants gathered to protest outside city hall where they demanded to see a government representative.

Meanwhile, 200 co-workers put up road blocks on the main northern and southern roads leading into the town.

The crowd eventually dispersed after a delegation had talks with the government commissioner in the town, Francesco Bagnato.

Some immigrants threw stones at a film crew as they walked back to their makeshift lodgings.

Bagnato, appointed after the city council was dissolved last year because of mafia infiltration, told reporters: "The situation is serious".

He said he had told the immigrants that police would do everything possible to protect them but "they must not confuse attacks by individuals with the attitude of the citizenry as a whole". He said "just one more incident" might set off other riots and he was worried about the "immigrants' violent reaction".

Bagnato stressed that the town had done "everything possible to improve living conditions over the last few months by supplying chemical toilets and containers linked to the water mains".

"But the tension with the town population remains very high".

The town's ex-civil defence councillor, Domenico Ventre, said: "What is happening in Rosarno is intolerable and the citizens won't stand for it any more".

He said the immigrant protests over the "isolated" shooting incident had been "absolutely disproportionate".

"We cannot tolerate these people devastating our town," he said.

"I hope all this ends as soon as possible and people realise that citizens have the same rights as immigrants". Earlier, two separate incidents sparked fears the protest might turn uglier than Thursday night.

In the first, a local man shot a rifle from his balcony to try to scare off the protesters gathered underneath.

Instead they climbed the stairs and a verbal exchange ensued but no violence. In the second, locals protested strongly when a youth was arrested after arguing with one of the immigrants.

Police had to hold several people back but the situation was defused when the youth was released.

POLICY TOO LENIENT TOO LONG, SAYS MARONI.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni commented that such incidents showed that Italy's immigration policy had been too lenient for too long.

"In all these years illegal immigration has been tolerated without doing anything effective, an immigration that on the one hand has fed crime and on the other has led to situations of extreme squalor such as that at Rosarno".

About 1,500 immigrant day labourers keep farms running in the area by picking fruit and vegetables.

They say they are essential for the economy and angry at living in abandoned factories without running water or electricity.

Human rights groups also claim they are exploited by organised crime.

Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right government, in which Maroni's Northern League plays a key role, has moved strongly to stem immigration from north Africa and especially Libya.

Under a recent accord with Tripoli, criticised by human rights groups, immigrants are turned back in the open seas before they reach Italian waters.

Maroni said Friday the policy had been a success, stopping arrivals on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, and vowed to bring situations such as those Rosarno under control.

"We've stopped illegals getting to Lampedusa and we'll gradually get the situations back to normal," he said.

But the leader of the largest opposition party, Democratic Party (PD) chief Piero Bersani, accused Maroni of blaming illegal immigration and said Italy's recent clampdown had exacerbated some problems by forcing immigrants underground.

"I say what is needed now is to calm the situation in Rosarno. There is mafia, exploitation, xenophobia and racism there. You have to go to the roots".

"But I'm very sorry Maroni did not miss a chance to pin the blame on illegal immigration," Bersani said.

In September 2008 the town of Castel Volturno near Naples saw similar scenes after six men were killed by the mafia.

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