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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK
Italy launches crackdown on crime
Kurdish refugees in Bari
Many refugees see Italy as an attractive gateway to Europe
Police in Italy have arrested more than 240 people, mostly foreigners, in a major crackdown on crime and illegal immigration.

Thousands of police were involved in an operation, which involved co-ordinated raids across Italy in what Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called a fight between good and evil.

Italian police escorts an illegal Moldavian immigrant
Police says the raids should prevent crimes by foreigners
The charges ranged from exploiting prostitution to drug trafficking and burglary, and in addition police detained hundreds of illegal immigrants - including more than 350 Albanians and 100 North Africans - who would be deported.

Mr Berlusconi said that the operation, code-named "High Impact", aimed to "place a good army between people and the evil army".

He said that the raids should reassure the public over "the government's ability to defend its citizens" and reduce crime, which was one of his key promises during the elections last year.

Sweeping raids

In one raid alone, more than 100 Chinese sweatshop workers were taken into custody in the northern town of Brescia.

They will be questioned about illegal businesses which use illegal immigrants who are forced to labour in Italy for years almost without wages.

During the raids police also seized 255 kilograms of drugs and 4,000 ecstasy tablets.

The crackdown was the second stage of efforts by the Italian authorities to tackle the growing problem of illegal immigration.

Last year, more than 1,000 foreigners were summarily expelled for being in the country without papers, and more than 300 were arrested on charges of running prostitution and drug rackets.

Toughening the laws

Italy is in the process of tightening up its immigrations laws.

The government bill calls for much stricter checks of new arrivals, including immediate deportation of those found without visas or work papers.

The new regulations are due to come into force later this year.

Italy, with a 7,600-kilometre (4,720-mile) coastline, is a popular target for asylum seekers, many of whom use it as a gateway to Europe.

Expulsions of asylum seekers from Italy have increased by about 30% since Mr Berlusconi's conservative coalition came to power in June last year.

See also:

20 Mar 02 | Europe
Italy declares migrant emergency
19 Mar 02 | Europe
Destination: Europe
04 Jul 01 | Europe
Immigrant ship rescued off Italy
16 Jun 01 | Media reports
Divers locate 'phantom shipwreck'
20 Mar 02 | Europe
Analysis: Italy's asylum struggle
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