* Mayor says Knox case sullied Perugia's reputation
* Locals tired, fed up, want court case to end
* Town feeling the pinch of economic crisis
By Deepa Babington
PERUGIA, Italy, Oct 2 As American student Amanda
Knox's court appeal ends, exasperated residents of Perugia wish
for a return to the days when the Italian town was known for
chocolate, art and history rather a sex and drugs scene made
notorious by the murder case.
Set against a lush hilly backdrop, Perugia, with its cobbled
alleyways, sunny piazzas and palazzos adorned with griffin
statues should be basking in the splendour of its medieval and
Instead, four years of media scrutiny of the case, which saw
Knox convicted of the murder of her British roommate Meredith
Kercher, have exposed a less flattering side of Perugia -- one
featuring drug dealers, orgies and drunken foreign students.
"The trial and the media have created this image of Perugia
as the 'Ibiza' of Italy which is just absurd," said Marcello
Giulietti, 37, a waiter, referring to the Spanish island
renowned for its nightclubs and raucous young tourists.
"My own brother, who lives outside Perugia, is now
convinced that the town centre is dangerous," he said in one of
the town's many cafes with marble counters and gleaming espresso
Knox was sentenced to a 26-year jail term for her role in
the murder of Kercher during a drug-fuelled sexual assault in
2007 along with her Italian boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and a
third man, Rudy Guede, a small-time Ivorian drug dealer.
Knox, from Seattle, is appealing her sentence and a verdict
is expected on Monday.
Perugini, as the town's residents are called, say they
cannot wait for the appeal -- and the accompanying media circus
of over 400 reporters, camera crews and satellite trucks that
have occupied a piazza near the courthouse -- to wrap up and go
"For months we've had a representation of us which is more
like a caricature," says Perugia's mayor, Wladimiro Boccali.
"We've been damaged by this negative image that we have to
deal with when we sell ourselves as a university town. At first
blush, we've been described as a town overwhelmed with drugs and
extreme sex games."
Even organizers of a local march for peace -- which
celebrated its 50th anniversary last week -- complained the Knox
trial had rendered their worthy initiative virtually invisible.
Knox and Kercher --- among thousands of foreign students who
flock to Perugia -- shared an apartment in the hilltop town when
Kercher, a 21-year-old Leeds University student on the European
Union Erasmus exchange program, was killed.
As the trial unfolded before television cameras, so did the
town's tawdry party scene -- one where free-spirited students
spent their study-abroad semesters staggering drunk out of pubs
into piazzas, searching for easy sex and partying till dawn.
The media also discovered a trove of party photos posted by
Perugia students on the Internet, prompting the Corriere della
Sera daily to dub it Italy's Ibiza, eclipsing the town's earlier
claim to fame as the home of a famous chocolate factory.
"It's about time this trial came to an end," said newspaper
vendor Ugo Isidori. "It has really hurt Perugia because Perugia
is not the city that it's been portrayed as. It's not that city
-- it's a much better one."
With anger running high among many in America over Knox's
conviction, Seattle also pulled plans in 2009 to name a park
after Perugia, prompting Boccali to write a letter saying the
trial should not sour relations between the sister cities.
Boccali said the number of students coming to Perugia
remained high, but residents offer anecdotal evidence suggesting
a growing number are reluctant to send their children here.
Giulietti, the waiter, said his friend's siblings had opted
for university in the Tuscan town of Siena over Perugia after
the town's supposed drugs and crime problems hit the headlines.
Another Perugia resident said the growing number of "For
Rent" signs on apartments in the centre stood testament to the
falling interest among students in coming here.
But Perugia's problems are not all linked to the murder.
The town, like so many others across the country, has felt
the pinch from an economic crisis that has left Italy mired in
sluggish growth and with nearly a third of its youth unemployed.
Boccali says unemployment has risen and consumer spending
has fallen in Perugia recent years, even if the town remains a
tourist magnet. But he knows the end of the Knox trial will come
as a relief to many in his town, including himself.
"We hope it ends soon, whatever the outcome is," he said.
"All of us have felt the hit from this media attack against us."
(Editing by Sophie Hares)