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Mobs burn gypsy camps in Naples

SEVERAL HUNDRED gypsies, including old people and children, endured another night in civil protection tents in Naples yesterday after locals burnt their camps at the weekend.

Nearly 1,000 gypsies fled their caravans and shacks in four separate areas after the camps were torched in a revenge attack. About 200 have dared to return and they are being protected by carabinieri and militants of the Refounded Communist Party while they try to rebuild their homes.

Police are guarding the smouldering charred remains of the other camps after incidents of looting. The attack, which has shocked the inhabitants of the traditionally tolerant southern Italian city, took place in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Witnesses at the first camp to be burnt say they were told to get out by a mob of locals, some of whom were armed. Families grabbed what they could and fled.

Soon afterwards, groups of men torched the fragile shacks and caravans, that had been homes to families of Rom, as gypsies are called.

The victims say police never intervened despite several calls to the emergency services. "How come the police didn't intervene? How is it possible that in Naples squads like those in South America roam freely, forcing people out of their homes and setting property on fire, " complained Amadeo Curatoli, of the support group Opera Nomadi.

At first it was thought to be a settling of scores between local mafia, the Camorra, and criminals among the gypsies, but investigators have now excluded the involvement of organised crime.

It is now clear it was a revenge attack for a hit-and-run accident involving a young Serbian gypsy who lived in one of Naples' rundown suburbs.

On Friday, two young women on a scooter were hit by a BMW travelling at high speed, driven by the gypsy. The man, who had been drinking did not stop, and has since disappeared. Anna Monfrecola, 19, star player of the Sorrento Women's Football Club, is in an irreversible coma.

Her mother, Anna, said: "Everyone has rushed to the defence of these nomads but no one has thought about my daughter, or about her grief-stricken family. We in the Scampia neighbourhood are second-grade citizens. If I found him I would kill him with my bare hands."

The girl's father has been questioned by police after he told journalists that he and his neighbours had decided to take the law into their own hands.

Little progress has been made in trying to convince the Rom to return, as they are fearful of more attacks, especially if the victim dies. The council is speeding up the creation of a proper camp for them, but faces opposition from nearby residents.

The Archbishop of Naples, Cardinale Michele Giordano, who visited the camps last night,described it as an act of barbarity but said the roots lay in the fact that the people of the rundown Scampia neighbourhood felt abandoned. Don Aniello Manganiello, a priest in Naples went further: "Here the state is completely absent."