Opposition leader in Italy denounces gypsy camp attacks

Italy’s top opposition leader today denounced attacks on Gypsy camps, as Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s new government prepared a crackdown on immigration and the European Parliament agreed to a debate on how Gypsies are treated in Italy.

Centre-left leader Walter Veltroni, who lost to Mr Berlusconi last month in elections, urged the government to balance security concerns with human rights.

Last week, attackers set fire to shacks where Gypsies lived on the outskirts of Naples, following an alleged attempt by a Gypsy youth to kidnap a baby from a home in a Naples suburb. The camps were evacuated.

There have been increasing calls by conservative politicians for harsher measures against foreigners in Italy. Surveys in the run-up to the parliamentary elections that swept Berlusconi and right-wing allies into power indicated that many Italians blame immigrants for crime.

Berlusconi will lead a Cabinet meeting in Naples on Wednesday. Among measures expected to be decided at the meeting is a crackdown on illegal immigration and on foreigners who commit crimes.

Veltroni called the attacks on Gypsy settlements in Naples “very grave” and said anti-crime measures must achieve a “balance between security and rights,” the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Rome’s former mayor as saying.

The European Parliament on Monday approved a request by European Socialists to debate how Italy treats Gypsies, who are also known as Roma.

The debate, the latest in a series of occasional discussions in the parliament on Europe’s eight million Gypsies, was scheduled for Tuesday evening.

A European Parliament deputy from Hungary who is of Gypsy origin inspected camps in Rome on Saturday and in Naples yesterday and deplored conditions.

Viktoria Mohacsi told reporters in Rome today that the conditions in Gypsy camps in Italy were the worst she had seen in Europe and that some camp residents have lived for as long as 50 years in Italy and are still illegal.

Rome’s new, right-wing mayor, Gianni Alemanno, told reporters after visiting a Gypsy camp that he saw, “on the doorstep of Rome, images from the Third World, things beyond my imagination,” ANSA reported.

Many of the shacks in the camps have no water or gas hook-ups.

He called for major efforts “so that Rome doesn’t become a city split in two,” between the haves and the have-nots, ANSA said.

The Italian Radical party, which accompanied Mohacsi on her inspections, said it would seek parliamentary debate on treatment of Gypsies in Italy.

Last week, the European Roma Rights centre sent a letter to several Italian government officials, including Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, decrying what it called anti-Roma “pogroms” in Naples. The Budapest-based advocacy group asked the Italian government to provide protection to all Roma in Italy and to investigate what happened in Naples.

There are some 7,000 Gypsies in Rome, a metropolis of 2.7 million people. Many Gypsies arrived from the Balkans in the early 1990s when ethnic conflict raged there, but other Roma families have been in Italy for generations and some trace ancestors in Italy to the 15th century.

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