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The BBC's Frances Kennedy:
"Vatican Radio said it was astonished at the threat"
 real 28k

Friday, 16 March, 2001, 19:33 GMT
Italy threatens to silence Vatican
Pope John Paul II at his weekly general audience
The radio station broadcasts the Pope's messages
Italy has threatened to cut off electricity supplies to the Vatican's radio station because it says the station's transmitters are causing magnetic pollution.

People living near the radio station have complained of a series of health problems, including cases of leukaemia.


It's an extreme decision I hope I won't have to take

Environment Minister Willer Bordon
The Vatican has been ordered to reduce the magnetic fields from 18 volts per metre to six per metre in accordance with Italian law - even though the radio station is on land considered to be international territory.

When the 440 hectare (960 acre) opened in 1951, the area was sparsely populated - but now, about 100,000 people live nearby.

Environment Minister Willer Bordon has given the Vatican 15 days to cut the pollution at the station, based in Santa Maria di Galeria, 30km (19 miles) north of Rome.

"It's an extreme decision I hope I won't have to take," Mr Bordon told reporters.

Mr Bordon said electric lights in homes near the site come on by themselves, and if someone opens a refrigerator, or the doorbell rings, they hear a Vatican Radio broadcast.

"Astonished"

La Repubblica newspaper quoted figures from Lazio public health authority which said children living near the transmitters were six times more likely to get leukaemia than those living in the rest of the region.

Antennas are seen on the roof of a Vatican building next to St. Peters Basilica
The antennas violate Italian law
The Vatican has argued that the radio station does not have to comply with Italian law because of the 1929 pact with Italy that established Vatican City as an independent city-state. But Mr Bordon said it was legally possible to take action against the station because local people were at risk.

The Vatican has denied any scientifically proven link between electro-magnetic waves and illness.

Vatican Radio said it was "astonished" by the threat to cut the station's power supply and that it did not contribute to the "calm climate" needed to resolve the dispute.

Legal proceedings against three Vatican Radio executives were due to start in Rome on Monday but have been postponed until September.

A forest of antennas beam Vatican broadcasts around the world. Italian ministers do not know whether the radio would still reach all its listeners with reduced transmission.

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