Italian town rises in revolt to stop the rot

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FIGHTS, insults and even a torchlight protest have been raging in and around the town hall of Chieti in Abruzzo as the citizens revolt against an attempt by the Christian Democrat-led councillors to stay in office despite a local corruption scandal.

The Mayor, Andrea Buracchio, and 16 other people were arrested and held for a few days recently on corruption charges. On top of the usual rake-offs on public contracts, they had allegedly formalised the shady practice of raccomandazioni - getting politicians to procure jobs, licences or whatever. The mayor's chief clerk had had forms printed and circulated to municipal offices in which applicants could say what they wanted and who was the influential person helping them.

The councillors could have passed quietly into history because their time in office was due to lapse yesterday if they did not pass the city budget by then. But, determinated to stay in office, the disgraced councillors met, ordered the police to throw crowds of angry citizens shouting 'thieves, thieves' out of the council chamber and, behind a strong police cordon, began work.

With the town hall surrounded by torches all night and several hundred protesters by day they finally voted it through, eight hours before the deadline. Then mayor and friends tried to slip out of the back door and had to be protected from the wrath of the crowds by truncheon-waving police.

In Rome, the parliamentary commission which is to decide whether to prosecute the former prime minister and Socialist leader Bettino Craxi concluded its debate, but will not vote until next Tuesday. Mr Craxi had asked to address the commission again following the arrival of further evidence from the Milan magistrates investigating the corruption scandals.

This evidence included a statement by Claudio Martelli, his former protege and until recently justice minister, that Mr Craxi himself dealt with illicit funds flowing into the party and did not allow others to have anything to do with them. Mr Martelli stressed yesterday that he had also declared that Mr Craxi may not have been aware of the origins of the funds.

Ciriaco de Mita, former prime minister and Christian Democrat party secretary, has abandoned his post as chairman of the joint parliamentary commission working on electoral reform, despite a vote by members to refuse his resignation. His brother Michele, a building contractor, was arrested earlier this week for alleged fraud in connection with state funds for the reconstruction of the earthquake-damaged area of Irpinia, east of Naples. It has the makings of another huge scandal. Mr De Mita is the most prominent politician from the area.

(Photograph omitted)