Italian anarchists turn violent in tourism row  

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The Independent Online

A plan by Silvio Berlusconi's closest relatives to build a holiday resort on an unspoilt, environmentally unique stretch of Sardinian coast has provoked violent opposition.

Settimo Nizzi, mayor of Olbia, the nearest town, and a political ally of the Prime Minister, has received a bullet through the post and other threats.

The centre-left Margherita party, which on 19 December voted with Mr Nizzi to give the plan outline consent, had its office in Olbia vandalised during the Christmas holiday. Furniture was broken and anarchist symbols were painted on walls and curtains. A photograph of the Costa Turchese, the intended site of the tourist development, was left behind with the image scribbled over.

The menaces come at a delicate juncture in the longstanding effort to develop this virgin stretch of Sardinia's north-west coast.

A short distance to the north is Costa Smeralda, one of the most expensive stretches of coastline in Europe, discovered by the Aga Khan in the 1950s. Canny developers piled in behind him, including the late Roberto Calvi, nicknamed God's Banker because of his close ties to the Vatican, and his wealthy businessman friend Flavio Carboni. Mr Calvi was found hanged under Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1981; recently Mr Carboni was named as a suspect in the case.

One of Mr Carboni's projects on the Costa Smeralda was an enormous villa called La Certosa, which is now Mr Berlusconi's favourite holiday home.

Costa Turchese is only a few kilometres south of Costa Smeralda and said to be just as beautiful. But in the 1970s, as the transformation of the north was getting under way, Costa Turchese was zoned exclusively for agricultural use.

All development within 300 metres of the sea was banned, and Costa Turchese was given special protection as a rare wetland. That was not the sort of thing to discourage Mr Berlusconi, however, and in 1981, still a decade away from starting his political career, he arrived in Olbia with a scheme to transform the whole coastline.

Successive left-wing governments refused to countenance the plan. But in 1997 Olbia got a new, right-wing mayor, Mr Nizzi, renowned for his close ties to Mr Berlusconi. When the two men opened a new tunnel in the island last June, Mr Berlusconi joked, "[Mr Nizzi] is the biggest pain in the neck of any mayor in Italy - he phones me early in the morning asking for my help ..."

But now it is the Berlusconi clan, led by Silvio's brother Paolo, who are looking for help from Mr Nizzi. With the support of the centre-left opposition they have won outline permission for a greatly reduced version of the plan, one-tenth the area of the original. Final consent may arrive as early as the spring.

Legambiente, Italy's largest and most active environmental organisation, vows to fight the project to the bitter end. Vincenzo Tiana, regional president of the organisation, describes it as "devastating and illegitimate". But over the Christmas holiday the environmentalists appear to have acquired some awkward allies.