By Laura Viggiano
NAPLES, May 23 (Reuters) - Police clashed with demonstrators in Naples on Friday night after the Italian government vowed to force open rubbish dumps against locals’ wishes in a determined effort to end the city’s chronic trash problem.
Police said they charged protesters they said were throwing stones at them outside a planned rubbish dump in Chiaiano, on the outskirts of the southern port city. Ten demonstrators were injured.
The angry scenes came after a government official gave details of a plan to open landfills in the Naples region, where trash has been piling up in the streets since the end of last year when almost all dumps were declared full.
Conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi passed the decree on Wednesday at his first full cabinet meeting since winning a landslide election in April.
The cabinet met in Naples, rather than the capital Rome, to emphasise the priority Berlusconi is giving the issue. He vowed to treat it "exactly as if it were an emergency caused by an earthquake or volcano eruption".
Protesters against the dumps, which are usually in poorer areas, say they do not trust politicians to ensure waste will be dealt with safely.
Under the new law, landfills will be considered military zones, giving the army powers to stop residents from blocking roads and rail lines.
Details of the decree, particularly the location of the new landfills, will remain secret until the law is published in Italy’s Official Journal, probably over the weekend.
But Guido Bertolaso, appointed by Berlusconi to oversee the crisis, told a news conference earlier on Friday that a disused quarry in Chiaiano would be in use as a landfill by June — sparking the latest protests.
"This kind of reaction was to be expected," Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said on a TV talk show.
"It’s clear that it’s not nice to have a landfill on one’s own territory but it’s a principle of democracy and equity that waste is managed where it is produced," said Maroni, a member of the Northern League party which wants Italy’s wealthy north to be more autonomous from the under-developed south.
Maroni said waste incinerators would be up and running in the region within two years. "In the meantime it is absolutely indispensable to move the waste and put it in the places we have identified."
Centre-left politicians who run the local government are sceptical of Berlusconi’s motives.
The trash crisis was one of the main issues he campaigned on, blaming the centre left for failing to sort it out, although his opponents say he did nothing to solve the trash situation during his last five years in power, to 2006.
Naples’ mafia, the "Camorra", has been involved in waste disposal for decades and its presence in the business is thought to be one of the reasons the city has been unable to deal with its trash. (Writing by Robin Pomeroy; editing by Andrew Roche)