Pressure mounts on Prodi over Italian 'outcast' law

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The Independent Online

Italy's emergency legislation allowing EU citizens who pose a threat to public security to be summarily expelled was heading into choppy waters yesterday with opponents inside and outside the government attacking it and threatening to vote it down in parliament.

The diktat, known as a "decree law", was signed into law by President Giorgio Napolitano hours after the murder of Giovanna Reggiani, the wife of a naval captain, allegedly by a member of the Roma community living on the outskirts of Rome. Expulsions began soon afterwards, and at least 38 Romanians from Lecce in the far south to Turin in the far north have been expelled since then.

Johannes Laitenberger, a spokesman for the European Commission, said yesterday that the law was only acceptable if there was proof that a person individually constituted a threat to public security. EU law also stipulates that those served with such an order should have the right to appeal and a month in which to go.

Italian emergency laws need to be confirmed by parliament within 60 days if they are not to lapse. And yesterday it became clear that Romano Prodi's patchwork coalition is going to have trouble getting this one through the Senate, where it has a tiny and undependable majority.

The main promoter of the law was Walter Veltroni, the ex-communist Mayor of Rome and now head of the nascent Democratic Party. But Mr Veltroni's rival on the other side of the political spectrum, Gianfranco Fini, leader of the post-Fascist National Alliance, has been loudly demanding the expulsion of impoverished foreigners, and Roma people in particular, and the demolition of their camps. he said at the weekend that 200,000 deserved to go.

Yesterday the opposition House of Liberties coalition, led by Silvio Berlusconi, said they would only vote for the law in parliament if it was significantly toughened.

Mr Fini said immigrants should be liable for expulsion not only on grounds of being a threat to security but also if they did not have an income. He said the law should also mandate more funds for the police to finance the crackdown.

There are problems for Mr Prodi abroad, too. Romania's President, Traian Basescu, attacked the emergency law, saying: "Improvised measures that induce fear and awaken hatred can be unjust and can have other effects than those hoped." He said he condemned violence committed by Romanians, but also condemned "any acts of violence aimed against Romanian citizens as well as any speech that incites people to disrespect the civil rights of Romanian citizens, regardless of where they are in the EU".

Romania's Prime Minister, Calin Tariceanu, said his government would give legal support to those expelled and require "solid arguments" for expulsions. He arrives in Rome for talks with Mr Prodi tomorrow.

Mr Veltroni, the politician of "love and order" as he is known, said he felt no remorse over the emergency law and insisted that he was right to target Romanians. "I have never exploited tragedies for political ends and I trust I never will," he said, but the security situation throughout the country had worsened drastically since the entry of Romania into the EU. "Since January it's been a completely different story," he said. "We have confronted this story [by means of the emergency law] with responsibility but also with firmness."

Romanians long resident in Italy who have no connection with the recently arrived Roma are already feeling the sting of race hatred.

Four Romanian nationals were beaten up in a suburb of Rome on Friday night, and the Lazio footballer Adrian Mutu, a Romanian, was whistled and subjected to racial abuse during Saturday's game against Fiorentina.