Vigilante army mounts battle on the beaches

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The Independent Online
THE six million tourists who will descend on the beaches of the north Italian resort of Jesolo this summer can rest easy in their deck chairs, calmly soaking up the sunshine in the knowledge that their wallets and cameras are safe. Some argue, however, that protection is needed from the protectors.

Mayor Renato Martin, of the autonomy-seeking Northern League, has called in the volunteers of the Padanian National Guard, the "army" of the North, to beef up the police presence in this seaside resort north of Venice. Italian magistrates suspect the secretive PNG of subversion. But the mayor is not going to let a little detail like that get in the way.

"Jesolo, it must be stressed, does not have a big crime problem," said the town's first citizen, anxious not to scare off the army of Brits, Germans and Austrians who compete for sand-inches through July and August. "But there is the odd unfortunate incident, inevitably, and we want to be able to offer a safer holiday destination."

Unarmed but not untrained, the Greenshirts of the Padanian National Guard will "keep the beaches under control, and keep an eye on pollution levels too, without, of course, interfering with the regular police patrols," said Mr Martin.

If all goes to plan, the PNG vigilantes - decked out in specially designed summer kit of short-sleeved green shirts and Bermuda shorts - will slip in and out of the serried ranks of beach umbrellas, keeping undesirables at bay in their first ever contract with a local authority.

The Italian press has noted the Northern League's intolerance of anyone hailing from anywhere south of Florence, and has suggested possible racist motives behind the patrols. An indignant Mr Martin described these accusations as "totally groundless - there's no xenophobia involved here".

Italian magistrates, delving into PNG secrets to establish whether this force has secessionary goals, may well be wondering if Jesolo will still be part of the Italian republic by the end of the summer.

"The Padanian National Guard is a regularly registered volunteer organisation. I have as much right to call on them for help just as I do on the boy scouts," said Martin. Some might regard his defence of this controversial force as just a touch disingenuous. In their pea-green Bermudas, the politically motivated Greenshirt beach angels will have little in common with their boy-scout counterparts apart from their exposed knees.