Fury over Berlusconi's bid to solve rubbish crisis

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The Independent Online

The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, faces the first real test of his new government after his demand for a speedy end to Naples's interminable rubbish wars was greeted at the weekend with violent clashes and a call to arms by residents of the areas chosen for new dumps.

Communities targeted by the government for 10 new rubbish dumps vented their anger when the list was made public: they fear they will pay a high price in environmental damage for the solution to the region's chronic refuse problem. Riot police and protesters clashed near the Neapolitan suburb of Chiaiano on Saturday after police tried to remove a bus that had been laid as a barricade across the road leading to the new dump. During the violence, a petrol bomb, cans and other objects were hurled at police, three people were arrested and one youth was injured after falling from a wall.

Paolo Ferrero, a national leader of Rifondanzione Comunista, the reformed Communist party, said the situation in Chiaiano was "becoming hour by hour more intolerable and more unworthy of a civilised and democratic country." "The violence of the police" and the "militarisation of the territory" were unacceptable, he added.

Guido Bertolaso, the under-secretary in the prime minister's office to whom Mr Berlusconi has given the role of rubbish tsar for a second time, said that to crack the crisis would require "30 months, much collaboration, much determination and, above all, much humility".

Mr Berlusconi chose the battle, flying down to Naples for his first cabinet meeting last week and telling ministers that the rubbish crisis must be addressed, he said, "like an earthquake or a volcanic eruption," while the places selected for new dumps should be considered "zones of strategic national interest". After Saturday's clashes he said that there was to be "no turning back".

But one man's zone of strategic interest is another man's back yard. "It's not a question of defending my own garden," a protester in Chiaiano told Il Giornale, the daily paper owned by the Berlusconi family. "This is the only bit of greenery in a densely inhabited area where 250,000 people live, and there is an aquifer just two metres below the site of the dump. This ought to be a protected natural area and instead it risks becoming a dump for rubbish from all over Campania. Do you need anything else?"

Mr Berlusconi has made no comment on the role of the Naples mafia, the Camorra, in the crisis. After controlling rubbish disposal in the region for years, they are said to be committed to fighting any resolution of the crisis which cuts them out of the business. But the government has made its choices, and yesterday commentators challenged the Prime Minister to live up to his boasts. "The face of the government and the state are at stake," Giuseppe d'Avanzo wrote in La Repubblica yesterday. "What would become of all the government's showy announcements if it cannot manage to defeat the reluctance of a town of 30,000 inhabitants ... in the interests of the country and of Naples itself – and demand a final closure to this humiliating story?"

"If the government takes a step back and opens talks," echoed Sergio Romano in Corriere della Sera, "the firmness of recent days would appear empty bravado, and Berlusconi would lose the credit he has conquered abroad, too."

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