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Dozens injured in clashes on Lampedusa

'We are not racist', says mayor

21 September, 16:57
Dozens injured in clashes on Lampedusa (ANSA) - Lampedusa, September 21 - Dozens of people were injured in clashes between migrants and residents on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on Wednesday.

Tension erupted on the island late Tuesday when migrants set fire to the migrant reception centre on the island to protest against plans for their forced repatriation.

More than 50,400 migrants have arrived from Tunisia and Libya and elsewhere in Africa since January, many of them in small, overcrowded boats.

Three police officers and more than a dozen migrants were being treated for cuts and abrasions.

"I say to the humanitarian organisations - you have no right to accuse the people of Lampedusa of racism," said Dino De Rubeis, the Mayor of Lampedusa, who was barricaded in his office as dozens of people protested outside.

The mayor was being protected by police after three local residents tried to attack him on Wednesday and has a baseball bat in his drawer.

"I have to defend myself and I am ready to use it," he said.

"I am in the middle of a war. The country should immediately send helicopters and ships to transfer the Tunisians who are wandering the island after setting the centre alight".

Around 1,200 migrants were relocated to a sports field after the incident.

The government transferred around 200 Tunisians in military aircraft to the Sigonella air base near Catania and pledged to move all of them off the island within the next two days. Sonia Viale, Undersecretary for the Interior responsible for immigration and asylum, condemned the violence on Lampedusa and praised the action of the police and firefighters in responding to Tuesday's fire.

Italy wants to restore the migration agreements which existed before the 'Arab Spring' upheavals unseated the former regime in Tunisia and has encouraged voluntary repatriation schemes under which migrants can return home.

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