World News

Italy expels Romanians, condemns attack

ROME (Reuters) - Authorities tore down a gypsy camp and expelled around 20 Romanians from Italy on Saturday while condemning a “racist” attack in Rome apparently triggered by this week’s murder of an Italian naval officer’s wife.

Masked assailants brandishing knives, clubs and canes stabbed and beat four Romanians outside a Rome supermarket late on Friday. One of the victims is in serious condition.

The attack partly overshadowed the Rome funeral on Saturday for Giovanna Reggiani, 47, who police believe was fatally wounded by a Romanian man as she exited a Rome train station.

“We’re looking for justice -- severe, austere -- but not intolerance,” chaplain Patrizio Benvenuti said at Reggiani’s funeral service, according to Italian media.

Reggiani’s death was a tipping point in Italy and prompted authorities to level the Rome gypsy camp where the Romanian suspect lived, a job they finished on Saturday.

It also prompted them to start expelling Romanians deemed to be dangerous. Seventeen expulsion orders were signed in the city of Genoa and three others in Rome on Saturday, local media said.

The tragedy has also sparked a war of words over centre-left Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s immigration policy and, officials fear, raised the threat of racist violence.

“We must prevent this terrible tiger, which is xenophobic rage, the racist beast, from getting out of control,” Interior Minister Giuliano Amato told La Repubblica newspaper.

The Romanian embassy, alarmed by the attack on its citizens, called on Rome to ensure “acts of xenophobia like this one don’t repeat themselves”.

The archbishop of Lecce, Cosmo Francesco Ruppi, warned against targeting foreigners and following the “dangerous path of racism”.

Italians have fumed for years over petty crimes by poor immigrants from Romania and elsewhere.

But, after Reggiani’s attack, Prodi on Wednesday issued a decree giving prefects the ability to expel European Union citizens who were considered to be dangerous.

The targets of the decree have so far been immigrants from Romania, which joined the bloc this year, and have the same right as other EU citizens to freely travel across borders.

“Nobody imagined having to face 500,000 poor souls, that in one year have left Romania for Italy,” Amato said.

A judge must sign off on the expulsion order but no criminal history is necessary and nor is a trial, according to the interior ministry.

Milan’s Prefect Gianvalerio Lombardi expelled the first four Romanians on Friday, sending them home.

“There is no exact list of people to send home. We have to do it on a case-by-case basis,” Lombardi told Italian media.

Additional reporting by Antonella Cinelli in Rome