Government aide is shot dead in 'terrorist' attack

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The Independent Online

A consultant to the Italian Labour Minister was shot dead as he cycled home last night in what police said was a political murder.

Marco Biagi, 52, an adviser to Roberto Maroni, was attacked by two gunmen on a motorbike or scooter close to his home in cental Bologna. They fired four shots, two of which hit him. He was married, with two children.

Mr Biagi had also been a consultant to Romano Prodi and previous centre-left governments.

His assassination, which evokes bloody memories of Italy's terrorist years in the Seventies and Eighties, comes during a period of social tensions over controversial labour reforms and just days before a huge union rally in Rome.

The method of the killing and the victim, a little-known but influential policy adviser, recall the assassination in 1999 of Massimo D'Antona, a consultant to the Labour Minister in the centre-left government.

The Interior Minister, Claudio Scajola, interrupted his trip to the United States and was due to address parliament today on the killing.

The crime comes as the government and trade unions are at loggerheads over the reform of article 18 of the Workers Statute, under which employees who were fired without "just cause" must be rehired. Plans to remove this protection for workers, or in some cases substitute it with a financial pay-off, have provoked widespread opposition among workers, trade unions and the opposition.

Mr Biagi, who taught labour law at Modena University, was one of the authors of the much-criticised reform, which he defended as necessary for Italy to catch up with other European economies.

According to newspaper accounts, a recent report by the secret services had identified those working on labour reforms as possible targets.

The Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, said "a sense of responsibility obliges everyone to interrupt the chain of hate and lies", a reference to the climate of social tension. Mr Berlusconi said the killing "fills all Italians with pain". He added: "Terrorism has shown yet again ... that it poses a danger that needs to be fought with all our power."

According to left-wing analysts, the Berlusconi government is hoping to divide the three trade union confederations, CGIL, CISL and UIL. The CGIL, the most left-wing of the three, has called a general strike in April, and the other two ­ after initial hesitation ­ are preparing to join in. The CGIL has organised a demonstration on Saturday in Rome in which more than a million people are expected to take part.