Berlusconi pledges 'no cover-up' over Genoa

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The Independent Online

Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, bowed to international protests over policing of the Genoa summit yesterday and declared there would be "no cover-up of the truth" of what happened. He also insisted the police were the victims of aggression.

In a 40-minute appearance at the Italian Senate, Mr Berlusconi dismissed accusations that the authorities used excessive force and said the meeting was a "political and diplomatic success for our country".

There has been growing international disquiet over the violent response of the Italian paramilitary carabinieri, which not only left one Italian protester dead but also inflicted severe injuries on some foreign demonstrators.

Massimo D'Alema, a former Italian prime minister, has argued that the policing tactics in Genoa had "the stamp of fascism" and compared them to "reprisals in the style of Chile."

Confronted by representations from several countries, including Britain, Mr Berlusconi bowed to demands from foreign capitals that the allegations of brutality should be thoroughly investigated.

"If there were abuses, excesses and violence, and which may come to light in internal investigations by the Interior Ministry and the judiciary, there will be no cover-up for those who have violated the law," the Italian premier said.

But he reiterated his firm support for the police, arguing that "there should be no confusion between those who attacked and those who were attacked." The aftermath of the Genoa riot continued to reverberate through Europe as Belgium, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, said it will slim down the first of its planned two summits.

Prime ministers and heads of state have been asked to limit their delegations to six people and not to bring foreign ministers to the meeting, which is scheduled for Ghent on 19 October. The gathering will now be limited to one afternoon session followed by a dinner. Belgium is bracing itself for protests at that meeting, at an informal gathering of finance ministers in Liège on 22 and 23 September, and at its final summit on 14 and 15 December at Laeken, a suburb of Brussels.

The authorities are hoping to learn from the Italian experience and avoid a repetition of the bloody scenes on the streets of Genoa, and its consequent political fallout.

In Italy and beyond, a fierce debate has followed Genoa, which ended with the death of one 23-year-old demonstrator, 231 injuries and the arrest of 280 people, many of them foreign nationals. The aggressive response of the carabinieri, culminating in a raid on a building occupied by members of the non-violent Genoa Social Forum, has begun to rebound on the Italian authorities. During the raid, police in riot gear beat Forum members and journalists, and arrested 93 people.

A 33-year-old Briton, Mark Covell, said he was beaten up three times by police, leaving him with all the ribs on his left side broken, 10 missing teeth, a punctured lung and a suspected ruptured spleen. Four other British nationals have complained of being beaten.

Across Europe many of those demonstrating recounted on their return home how they were mistreated by the police. They spoke of repeated beatings and of being deprived access to lawyers, consulates and their families.

In Italy, accusations have been made that television footage showing some of the worst violence by police took several days to emerge because much of the media is owned by the government.

Mr Berlusconi, who heads a relatively new centre-right coalition government, said he and everyone else was "pained" by the death of the demonstrator, who was shot by a 21-year-old paramilitary police recruit. He tried hard to shift political responsibility away from the government, arguing that it could not be held to account for decisions taken by security forces because current police chiefs, both national and local, were appointed by the previous centre-left administration.

The summit, Mr Berlusconi said, "was all organised by the previous government". He added: "We did not invent the red zone. We did not invent the yellow zone," referring to the areas of Genoa which were mapped out as security zones for the summit. "You invented all that," he said, directing his comments towards the opposition benches.