Migrants riot in southern Italian town after shooting, injuries and arrests reported

By Ariel David, AP
Friday, January 8, 2010

Migrants riot in southern Italian town

ROME — Hundreds of migrant workers went on the rampage Friday in a southern Italian town, in a second day of rioting after two of them were wounded in a shooting, authorities said.

Angry migrants, mostly from African nations, some armed with metal bars or wooden sticks, have been scuffling with police and residents in sporadic clashes in the streets of the Calabrian town of Rosarno since Thursday evening when two men, one from Nigeria, the other from Togo, were slightly injured by gunfire the migrants blamed on racism.

Other residents, afraid to venture into the streets, were holed up in their homes, state radio reported.

The Interior Ministry, in charge of state police, said schools and shops were closed.

The violence in the crime-ridden and volatile area started after two migrants were lightly wounded by unidentified gunmen. Groups of protesters then stoned police, attacked residents, smashed shop windows and cars and knocked over garbage bins.

Paramilitary Carabinieri police in the regional capital of Reggio Calabria said by early Friday evening 34 people had been injured, including the two migrants, 14 residents and 18 police officers.

An exact number of arrests was not immediately available since the clashes were continuing although “under control,” said the Carabinieri press office.

Earlier, the Interior Ministry said seven migrants were arrested.

The Italians arrested included one who, driving a bulldozer, tried to hit a migrant as the rioters headed toward the town’s center, while another Italian resident was taken into custody after trying to hit a migrant with a car, the Italian news agency ANSA reported from Rosarno, a town of 15,000 people.

Agazio Loiero, the governor of the Calabria region, told Sky TV said that the violence was “unacceptable” but that the migrants had been “strongly provoked.”

Thousands of migrants move to the area each year where they help with the harvest as seasonal workers. Living in improvised dormitories, including abandoned factories and huts, they earn as little as euro20-25 ($30-37.50) during a dawn-to-dusk work day. Often without work permits, they do jobs many Italians shun, despite chronic underemployment in the poorly developed south, involving seasonal fruit, like mandarin oranges and kiwi.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni convened a special meeting to discuss the rioting. Afterward, the ministry created a task force to deal with the violence and “aspects linked to the exploitation of illegal labor and health care” for the migrants. Calabria also is the base of the international crime syndicate called ‘ndrangheta. The unrest follows a recent decision by the Italian authorities to increase police numbers in Reggio Calabria after a weekend bomb blast damaged a courthouse in what was seen as a move by the mob to intimidate magistrates.

The combination of ethnic strife and organized crime activity has sparked other violence before among migrant communities in southern Italy. In 2008, migrants rioted in the Naples area after six Ghanians were murdered in a gangland-style shooting blamed on the local Camorra crime syndicate.

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