Italy stops joint police patrols with China - interior minister

ROME, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Italy will stop letting Chinese police take part in joint patrols with its officers in its territory, the interior minister said in an interview published on Monday, after reports that Beijing ran police-like operations abroad.

Safeguard Defenders, a rights group based in Spain, has said it has evidence of 102 Chinese "service stations", sometimes used to pressure Chinese citizens in 53 countries, including 11 stations in Italy.

Chinese authorities have dismissed the accusations and said the facilities are volunteer-run centres which help their citizens renew documents and offer other services that were disrupted during the COVID pandemic.

The Chinese embassy in Rome did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Safeguard Defenders says the "service stations" in Italy are linked to a 2015 bilateral deal that let Chinese police officers take part in joint patrols with Italian counterparts in Rome, Milan, Naples and other centres.

"I can say that those forms of cooperation will no longer be practiced or replicated in other forms," Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi told Il Foglio newspaper.

He told parliament earlier this month that the joint patrol pact with China had nothing to do with the establishment of any "service stations" in Italy.

The joint patrols took place in 2016-2019 and were "suspended" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Piantedosi said.

Safeguard Defenders has said that Beijing is using the centres to pressure some Chinese expatriates to return to China to face criminal charges. It says such operations are illegal and most likely target dissidents.

Several countries, including Canada, the United States, the Netherlands and Germany, have launched investigations into the rights group's reports that were published in September and two weeks ago.

Reporting by Alvise Armellini, editing by Andrew Heavens

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