Vincenzo Parisi, Italy's chief of police, yesterday flew to Genoa to preside over an emergency meeting. He said it was a battle between gangs of Italian and immigrant drug traffickers for control of the area close to the port. During the clashes the gangs used knives, stones and broken bottles.
But the Italian gangs had clearly used mounting resentment among residents at the ever-increasing numbers of immigrants as a pretext to launch their attacks. Thousands of Moroccans, Tunisians, Senegalese, Sudanese and Nigerians - estimates vary from 7,000 to 20,000 - inhabit the narrow streets and alleys of the once-beautiful old city, long since reduced to a slum.
Many sleep in old warehouses, or are packed a dozen to a room in lodgings let to them at extortionate rates. While many of them have entry visas and jobs others are in the country illegally and swell the drugs and prostitution rackets.
Some local residents, complaining that people are afraid to go out at night, have formed bands of vigilantes to roam the streets. Others have set up residents' associations, protesting that the area, infested with drug traffickers and addicts, has become uninhabitable.
The fuse was lit by a torchlight demonstration by residents against the drug trade on Monday night, after which two Africans were beaten up. On Tuesday night another protest gathering of some 200 residents, including old people and children, provided a pretext for Italian gangs to spark off two nights of urban warfare against the Africans and the police who tried to keep them apart. Five hundred extra police were being drafted into the city yesterday to reinforce Genoese police.
The clashes were the latest in a series of outbreaks of intolerance against immigrants. At Castelvolturno local inhabitants have staged general strikes and blocked a main road in protest against the immigrants, who now represent one quarter of the population and who they claim are being used by the Camorra, the Naples Mafia, for drug-running and prostitution. On 11 July, 22 caravans destined for a reception centre for several hundred immigrants were destroyed in what appeared to be an arson attack.Reuse content