Naples goes bankrupt: Patron saint makes manifest his disgust

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The Independent Online
ROME - Maybe that is what was upsetting San Gennaro, whose blood had refused miraculously to liquefy, as scheduled, in Naples Cathedral. The city of Naples, its inhabitants learned yesterday, has gone bankrupt, writes Patricia Clough.

The city's debts, accumulated over the past 30 years, are variously estimated at between 1,500bn and 2,000bn lire ( pounds 625m- pounds 830m), part of it spent on huge public works projects (now the subject of corruption investigations) for the 1990 World Cup matches. Creditors have demanded the seizure of land and buildings, and the current year's budget was based on the planned sale of municipal property, including a historic 18th- century palace, which proved more difficult than expected.

Naples was the first big Italian city to go bankrupt. Under a law designed for such eventualities the state will come to the rescue with a loan, but only after drastic cut-backs in expenditure.

Yesterday a former president of the Campania regional council and the city's former secretary-general were arrested in connection with investigations into the World Cup contracts. Warrants were also issued for the city's chief accountant, the director- general of the municipal transport company and a former deputy mayor.

While all this was going on, the dry brownish substance revered as the blood of the fourth century martyr San Gennaro (Saint Januarius), the city's patron saint, was refusing to liquefy as it usually does at the beginning of May. To superstitious Neapolitans this is an exceedingly ill omen. But yesterday morning, after the announcement of the bankruptcy and 65 hours of prayers, encouragement and imprecations by the faithful, the blood finally liquefied and the faithful went home happy.