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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 September 2007, 08:16 GMT 09:16 UK
Italians fight charges on beaches
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

Italian beach - file photo
Beach clubs monopolise large stretches of Italy's coastline
A campaign is getting underway in Italy to take back large stretches of the country's beaches from private bathing clubs which usually charge to use them.

This has been a summer of discontent because despite government efforts, an entire coastline has been monopolised by profiteering bathing clubs.

Italy has some of Europe's finest beaches but they are often buried under a mountain of deckchairs and umbrellas.

The government says the state owns the shoreline and swimming should be free.

Tidal wave of resentment

Huge stretches of Italy's 2,500km (1,500 miles) of swimmable coast are now in the hands of concessionaires who charge for showers, deck chairs, paddling pools and every other kind of seaside facility.

Wherever you might choose to lay your towel you will meet the same sign - spiagga privata. Private beach.

It would be bearable had these clubs not taken up the most popular stretches of the beach.

Take Liguria, for example, on the north-west coast.

Of 130km of beach - less than 20km is free to use.

Suddenly a tidal wave of Italian resentment is sweeping across the sand, and the government is under increasing pressure.

What most do not realise, however, is that in Italian law the private clubs are merely the tenants.

The shoreline belongs to the state.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi has been at pains to spell out the law for anyone who owns a swimsuit.

The restrictions stop, he stressed, where the waves arrive.

The beaches are for everyone - so the theory goes - just as long as you do not leave your towel on a deckchair!

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