Troops fan out across Italy in bid to fight crime

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The Independent Online

More than 1,000 troops were deployed in Italy yesterday on the orders of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to help police fight crime. However, the unorthodox move was dismissed by critics as a publicity stunt.

The deployment, which will soon rise to 3,000 troops, is the most visible initiative in a law and order campaign by Mr Berlusconi – who pledged to make Italy safer if he was re-elected.

Soldiers were sent to Rome, Milan, Turin and Palermo, where they patrolled the streets alongside the police and helped protect "sensitive" sites ranging from Milan's Duomo cathedral to embassies and consulates.

They will also guard detention centres processing illegal immigrants, who have been blamed for much of Italy's crime. "I'm happy. I hope this will solve things and eliminate part of the crime," said Vittoria Rosati, a resident of Rome, as troops in camouflage fatigues stood guard at a nearby metro stop.

Visitors to the Eternal City will not see them at iconic monuments such the Colosseum or the Pantheon, after Rome's mayor complained that gun-toting soldiers could scare off tourists.

Some critics said the deployment would do little to reduce crime, while others objected to the use of soldiers for policing. Achille Serra, a former Prefect of Rome with a background in law enforcement, said the deployment was "useless". He is now a centre-left opposition senator. "I'm wondering what a soldier will do to address a burglary or mugging," he told one newspaper.