NAPLES, Italy (Reuters) - Protesters set rubbish trucks alight and threw firecrackers and stones at police near Naples on Thursday as clashes flared over waste dumps aimed at easing the latest garbage crisis in Italy’s third biggest city.
Police used tear gas overnight to disperse several hundred protesters near a waste treatment center, and briefly held two people after arresting five others earlier in the week.
Tension resurged during the day. Demonstrators smashed shop windows with clubs and torched at least five garbage trucks in Terzigno and Boscoreale, two towns at the core of the protests.
As in the past, the anger is directed against existing or proposed new dump sites because residents fear contamination from unregulated and toxic waste disposal.
“We are women, we are mothers ... let us stop those trucks that will bring death to our children,” said one woman as police intervened to let the garbage trucks reach the Terzigno site.
Twenty policemen and several protesters were injured during the clashes, ANSA news agency and Sky Italia said.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called an emergency meeting on the crisis in Rome on Friday.
“It’s like civil war,” said a spokesman for the town hall of Boscoreale, which was effectively cut off by protesters setting up street barricades.
The protests are the latest episode in a chronic scandal over garbage collection in the southern region that has resurfaced in recent weeks, prompting growing calls for action from Berlusconi’s government.
“We want to breathe, it’s our right!” read one of a series of banners hung in the streets.
Political incompetence, corruption and the influence of organized crime have all contributed to a 16-year public emergency that has seen Naples streets regularly fill with rotting rubbish.
The governor of the Campania region around Naples said the protests will not stop plans to build more waste disposal sites.
“For 15 years, the whole of Campania has been a dump site for toxic waste and nothing was done about it. The law says there should be a disposal site for every province, and it must be respected,” Stefano Caldoro told reporters.
“Today’s fears are due to the illegal practices of the past when all sorts of dangerous materials ended in the dump sites. But now we are talking about waste sites that are checked rigorously, that exist in the rest of Italy and in Europe.”
The garbage crisis is a blow for Berlusconi, who often boasts that clearing Naples’ streets shortly after he came to power in 2008 was one of his government’s main achievements.
“There is an emergency that has not been solved ... the government should stop telling us about miracles but find a solution to a situation that risks triggering a real revolt,” said Pierluigi Bersani of the main opposition party, the PD.
Hundreds of tons of refuse lie uncollected on the streets in the suburbs around Naples, with the Terzigno site almost full and often blocked by protesters.
An incinerator facility is operating at reduced capacity.
Plans to open a new dump nearby have rekindled the protests, forcing garbage trucks to operate under police protection.
Writing by Silvia Aloisi and Catherine Hornby; editing by Mark Heinrich