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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 19:56 GMT
Ghosts return to haunt Italy
Graffiti on wall near professor's home
The graffiti read 'target eliminated'
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By David Willey
BBC Rome correspondent

With an anonymous telephone call to the local newspaper in Bologna, Italy's Red Brigades have said they were behind Tuesday night's killing of one of Italy's top economics professors.

But the tantalising fact about this attack is that the brains behind this new resurgence of home-grown political terrorism remain unknown.

A new generation of shadowy figures inspired by the Red Brigades and using the same logos and jargon has returned to haunt the Italian political scene

Interior Minister Claudio Scajola, who cut short a visit to the United States because of the new political crisis, told parliament in Rome that the killing of university Professor Marco Biagi bore all the hallmarks of the attacks carried out during the 1970s and 1980s by the Red Brigades, a movement of radical Marxists who set out - but failed - to destroy the Italian state.

These urban guerillas, sometimes calling themselves Armed Communist Combatants, killed, kidnapped and maimed trade unionists, university professors, and prominent politicians - among them former prime minister and leader of the now defunct Christian Democrat party Aldo Moro - in a series of surprise attacks which went on for more than a decade.

Most of the leaders of the original Red Brigades were finally caught and sentenced to long prison terms.

But now a new generation of shadowy figures inspired by the Red Brigades and using the same logos and jargon has returned to haunt the Italian political scene.

Moderate targeted

A five-pointed star - the logo chosen by the kidnappers and murderers of Aldo Moro back in 1978 - was scratched on the door of the professor's home in the centre of Bologna. Another graffitto on a nearby wall said simply "target eliminated".

Marco Biagi
Marco Biagi - a carefully chosen target
The latest victim of political violence in Italy was very carefully chosen.

He was a political moderate, a highly skilled and much respected teacher of labour law who had advised past and present governments of both the left and the right on reforming the labyrinth of labour legislation which makes Italy one of the hardest countries in Europe in which employers can fire workers - even for legitimate reasons.

More flexible labour laws are a priority for the new centre-right government of Silvio Berlusconi, and Marco Biagi had been one of the authors of new legislation aimed at making it easier to hire and fire, and thus, the government argues, to make Italian industry more competitive.


The new law has aroused the opposition of the labour unions who have threatened a general strike next month unless the government modifies its proposals.

Italy seems set on a course of political turbulence

By targeting the professor, the new generation of Italian Red Brigades are sending a grim message: there is no room for moderate solutions in the current showdown between the government and the unions.

Although Silvio Berlusconi has said he wants to return to the negotiating table, he has made it clear that he has no intention of giving way to the demands of Italy's labour unions, 12 million strong.

The left-wing opposition is already planning a major demonstration for Saturday in Rome, and a date for a general strike will be set later this week.

Italy seems set on a course of political turbulence.

The BBC's Gillian Hargreaves
"This couldn't have come at a worse time for Sylvio Berlusconi"
See also:

03 Mar 02 | Europe
Italy's left confronts Berlusconi
03 Jun 00 | Europe
Red Brigades fugitive arrested
13 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Italy
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