Italy erupts over plans for high-speed rail link

Locals plan a general strike over decision to construct an Alpine tunnel through to France, that they say will cause huge environmental damage

Bussoleno, Italy

The fight goes on. For more than 20 years, the people of Val di Susa, a spectacular Alpine valley on the Italian border with France, have been campaigning to prevent the construction of a high-speed train track under their mountains to France which they claim would cause vast environmental damage.

The French end of the 57km-long tunnel, the longest through the Alps, is well under way. But on the Italian side, despite the agreement of all the main Italian political parties and the European Union, not one lorry-load of cement has yet been poured, not one metre of Alpine soil drilled out. And hours after Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Monti, reaffirmed his country's commitment to the project on Friday evening, protesters met in this valley town to reaffirm their commitment to thwart him.

Alberto Peroni, a veteran leader of the "No TAV" movement (TAV is the Italian acronym for high-speed train) who suffered a broken elbow from a policeman's truncheon in clashes last week, chose a tone of mockery for his defiance. "Dear Monti," he told the 1,000-plus campaigners crammed into the hall and more listening outside, "you are in Rome and you want to build the TAV. We are in the Susa Valley and we don't want it. We are people who don't give in."

If there was a touch of arrogance here, the movement has earned the right to it. Despite the dissent of some valley communities (bought off with money, the protesters claim), the majority has been behind the resistance for years: a week ago, 70,000 people turned out for a protest march, and now they are planning a general strike.

After years simmering away on the back burner, No TAV is suddenly front-page news nationwide. Last week one protester, chased by police, was electrocuted after climbing a pylon in a planned construction site and taken to hospital in a coma. This, as well as fierce clashes between police and protesters blocking major roads, triggered a wave of No TAV sympathy around the country, with small but disruptive demonstrations in more than 40 towns and cities. Against this, Mr Monti argues: "Do we want to let our peninsula sweetly drift, cut off from Europe, making it very difficult for the Italian economy to be competitive and create new jobs?"

The objections of the protesters are above all environmental: the mountains contain significant quantities of uranium and asbestos, and people fear the health consequences of a huge building site in the middle of the valley for at least 10 years that would unleash these poisons on them. They fear the drying up of the streams and springs that water the valley, as has happened, they claim, to towns with motorways built nearby, and the destruction of the valley's natural beauty. With the closing of local factories, Susa is more and more dependent on tourists drawn by the awesome splendour of the mountains. The valley's beauty, they fear, would vanish for ever.

In a bar in Bussoleno, a local engineer called Corrado explained the reason for the mood of angry defiance. "On the French side they took the locals into their confidence. They held a public inquiry and listened to their doubts and misgivings, so when the project got under way the community was behind it. Here there was no consultation, even though a public inquiry is a statutory obligation. They merely descended from on high and ordered work to get under way. No wonder people were alienated."

The same bullying approach was in evidence at Giaglione, a hamlet deep in the mountains that is a centre of the struggle. It is reached by a winding track through a wood that has sprung up on steep terraced slopes, formerly a vineyard. Walking down the track towards her allotment and cottage were Fatima Ipenza, from Peru, and a group of fellow protesters. Turning a corner, the path ahead was blocked by a steel-encased cement barricade draped in razor wire, installed last week. Ms Ipenza requested permission to visit her allotment: permission denied. Why, she pursued, had she not been notified that her land would be sequestered?

"It's for reasons of national strategic necessity," a policeman, who refused to identify himself, said from the other side of the barricade, "so there is no requirement to inform."

News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Support Technician (2nd Line / Server Support) - Bedford

£24000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: 2nd line IT Support Techn...

Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a b...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 TeacherWould you like ...

Science Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a qualified science t...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments