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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

Technical Account Manager - Java, FIX Protocol, FIX 5.0, C++

£30000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Account Manager - Java,...

WPF .NET Developer

£300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform