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L'Aquila business leader abandons protest for shopkeepers

Slips out bank office back door after barricading self inside

13 January, 16:08
L'Aquila business leader abandons protest for shopkeepers (see related) (ANSA) - L'Aquila, January 13 - A business association leader in the central Italian city of L'Aquila on Monday slipped out through a side-door after having barricaded himself in a bathroom of the local Bank of Italy office to protest conditions for small businessmen in the city since its devastating 2009 earthquake.

Celso Cioni, president of L'Aquila's Confcommercio retailers' association gave a phalanx of journalists the slip and failed even to hold a meeting with a prefect on which he had conditioned abandoning his post.

Cioni said he wanted to meet with L'Aquila Prefect Francesco Alecci, after a period of reflection and under more balanced conditions, a source told ANSA.

The episode began when Cioni attended a meeting in the offices of Italy's banking watchdog that included a number of local business association leaders.

"We were in a meeting and we were talking about banking rules that come into force in February," said Angelo Liberati, the president of L'Aquila Fida-Confcommercio, an affiliated food retailers' association.

"There we understood that (the new rules) come at the expense of small shopkeepers and small businesses. At that point, Cioni got up and left".

Cioni's colleagues and firefighters worked to persuade Cioni to abandon his protest, but he continued to say he would light himself on fire unless he received reassurances from the prefect that measures would be taken to help small businesses and shopkeepers. "If the doors of the bathroom where I am barricaded in are forced open, I have gasoline and a lighter," Cioni warned.

Cioni called his gesture "a cry of pain from small shopkeepers of this battered city forced by the earthquake to leave their stores without obtaining (public) support and incurring debts".

"There have been suicides," Cioni added, and declared that he was launching hunger and thirst strikes.