Murder-a-day Milan wants extra police

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The Independent Online
AS EXTRAVAGANTLY dressed male models stalk the catwalk at this week's men's fashion shows in Milan, many residents of the north Italian city fear it is becoming a capital of crime rather than style.

Nine murders in the first nine days of this year as well as several gun battles and armed robberies have left the Milanese feeling defenceless and angry.

The Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, and the Interior Minister, Rosa Russo Jervolino, are holding an emergency meeting in Milan with police, the mayor and regional chiefs today. Diego Masi, of the Interior Ministry, insisted yesterday that Milan would not become "like Chicago in the 1930s". The conservative Forza Italia party led by the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has called for the army to intervene, while newspapers say the government is planning to send in an extra 800 police and security officers.

Residents and businessmen are accusing the authorities of ignoring the decline in law and order, much of which they blame on illegal immigrants. Much of the bloodshed has involved foreign criminal gangs.

However, the violence is not limited to poorer outer surburbs and has struck the very heart of Milan.

One of the killings that has most struck public opinion this year is that of 34-year-old Ottavio Capalbo, who ran a family bar in a north-eastern suburb.

Two masked gunmen, speaking with southern Italian accents, pushed through the customers playing their weekly lottery numbers and demanded the takings. When Mr Capalbo tried to resist he was shot in the face and died instantly. His uncle, Gaetano, was wounded in the stomach and is in a grave condition.

Twelve hours later, a Uruguayan was killed by two compatriots at his Milan home and, in the interim, party-goers in the buzzing Brera district dodged bullets as seven Croats, most of them with criminal records, began shooting in a dispute over drug profits.

Among the other victims of the new year bloodshed were a bar owner and a newsagent killed in separate incidents in the early morning.

Three of the victims were illegal immigrants, a Brazilian, a Sri Lankan and an Albanian.

Exasperated residents of the areas where pushers, prostitutes and pimps operate are ready to take the law into their own hands. Some have formed neighbourhood committees and have taken to filming the crime that takes place on their doorsteps.

In the first six months of 1998, there was a 4.3 per cent rise in murders and a 22.6 per cent increase in armed robberies.

On Friday, shop owners in one central street closed up and took part in a torchlight parade. A large protest rally has been called for tomorrow. "We feel unprotected and alone," said a man laying a flower outside Ottavio Capalbo's bar, where there were other bouquets and angry messages to the government. "The police are simply not present and even by day you are not safe. It's not a question of racism but the criminals here are foreigners. If they're arrested, they're back on the street the next day," said an elderly woman.

Magistrates have, for several years, warned of the increasing grip on the city of foreign criminal gangs - usually of Slav and North African origin. Overseas gangs have either pushed out - or cut deals with - the local mafia for the lucrative trade in arms, drugs and prostitution. Immigrants' rights groups have voiced their fears that the failure to combat crime will lead to xenophobia and penalise foreigners living and working in Milan legally.

On Saturday, the chief judge of Italy's highest court, Antonio La Torre, denounced an increase in crime nationwide

He also admitted that the justice system was not working, adding that illegal immigration was so "massive and obvious that it represented a continuous invasion".