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Rubbish protest seals off Naples suburb

January 7, 2008

By Guy Dinmore in Naples

Published: January 7 2008

Italian authorities lost control of an entire suburb of Naples to protesters on Monday as police and army failed to end a rubbish crisis that has turned the city into a smouldering health hazard and exposed again the weakness of the central government.

Tonnes of uncollected rubbish have been spewing out of skips and across streets since late December when the last of the southern region’s landfill sites, said to be stuffed to the brim, closed to further dumping.

Several thousand residents of Pianura, in the hills behind Naples, barricaded their suburb with concrete bollards, trees and fencing to block access to a nearby old tip – closed 12 years ago for health reasons – that the authorities want to reopen.

Police with batons charged the protesters on Monday. “We have to liberate the streets,” one officer said. But they admitted failure and a line of trucks carrying tar to prepare the site had to turn back. People milling around their multiple lines of defences were furious at the police action, insisting their resistance had been peaceful. “It is urban warfare,” said one protester.

Most shops were shut and streets deserted. Steady rain dissolved smouldering piles of refuse into the gutters, raising fears of epidemics.

Clusters of police admitted they had little control over Pianura and had trouble getting in and out. The government deployed small army units to clear rubbish so that children could go to school, as ordered by Romano Prodi, the prime minister. But some schools remained closed and local mayors resisted Rome’s instructions to open after Christmas.

Mr Prodi held crisis talks on Monday with several ministers of his fractious centre-left coalition, including Pecoraro Scanio, who is in charge of the environment and under strong pressure to resign, as is Antonio Bassolino, the communist governor of the region of Campania surrounding Naples. But there was no outcome reported and talks were to continue on Tuesday.

Naples and its 2m people have been periodically plunged into garbage “emergencies”, blaming their politicians, business community and the Camorra, as the region’s mafia is known. Collecting and disposing of trash is a highly lucrative business and it is widely believed that Pianura’s closed landfill – next to a national park – hides toxic wastes carried from all over Europe by Camorra- affiliated companies.

Local experts on organsied crime, including author Roberto Saviano who is under police protection, believe the Camorra are capable of stoking such crises to squeeze more income from the authorities.

Rome first appointed a special garbage commissioner in 1994. The result has been the further loss of millions of euros in public funds and the construction of just one incinerator. Cancer rates are far above the national average in the crime-ridden city.

Carlo Ciampi, the former president who hosted a G7 summit to advertise a supposed revival of Naples in 1994, on Monday expressed his indignation and shame, saying the entire political establishment was to blame.

Last night the police were reported to have pulled out of Pianura, but local media were convinced police would return in force as the authorities could not be seen to be held hostage by a suburb of 3,000 people.

The European Commission issued Italy with a garbage warning last June and a second in October for breaching European Union rules on waste.

Additional reporting by Andrew Bounds in Brussels

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