Page last updated at 17:20 GMT, Wednesday, 21 May 2008 18:20 UK

Naples faces 'disaster measures'

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi says solving the rubbish crisis is a key priority

The Naples rubbish crisis will be treated as a natural disaster, Italy's prime minister has said, unveiling a series of emergency measures.

Silvio Berlusconi said landfill sites will be classified as of strategic national interest, guarded by soldiers.

Angry residents have taken to burning the piles of rotting waste, which have littered the streets for months.

After a cabinet meeting held in Naples the government also announced tough new measures against illegal immigrants.

The measures, which have to be approved by parliament - where Mr Berlusconi has a solid majority in both houses - would make it a jailable offence to be an illegal immigrant.

Mafia link

Chronic mismanagement by city officials and the involvement of the Naples mafia, the Camorra, has been blamed for the region's rubbish crisis.

"[The sites] will become virtually military zones and will be guarded by soldiers to ensure that they can be cleared," Mr Berlusconi told a press conference in the southern city, where he held the first full meeting of his new cabinet.

"They will become areas of strategic national interest. Whoever tries to stop the management and disposal of the waste will face a prison sentence."

Mr Berlusconi also announced that the head of the country's civil protection force - which intervenes during natural disasters like earthquakes - would be charged with co-ordinating the rubbish clearance.

A demonstration in central Naples
Hundreds of people took part in demonstrations in central Naples

"We are handing over the emergency to the civil protection force - just as though we had a natural disaster," Mr Berlusconi said.

He said new rubbish dump sites would be named across the Campania region, which is blighted by some 45,000 tonnes of uncollected and dumped waste.

Several rubbish incinerators - which have been opposed by local residents - would be commissioned to deal with the waste, Mr Berlusconi added.

In early May, the European Union announced it was taking the Italian government to court over its mishandling of the region's waste management.

Mr Berlusconi said he would regularly return to Naples to monitor the crisis.

"The state is present in Naples," he said. "It will act - not tomorrow - but straight away."

There was high security in Naples for the cabinet meeting, with some 1,000 police officers patrolling the streets.

Protesters waving banners and chanting slogans clogged up the city's historic centre.

Municipal rubbish collections were stopped in Naples in December and the city's landfill sites are overflowing.

The region came top of a list of southern Italian provinces blighted by organised crime, according to a study released by the Eurispes research institute on Wednesday.

Violent crime

But some locals were sceptical about the media magnate's decision to hold his first full cabinet meeting in Naples.

A fireman hoses down a camp set alight on the outskirts of Naples (file image from 14 May 2008)
A Roma camp on the city outskirts was set alight last week

"Our problems can't be fixed from one day to the next. We've been dealing with this rubbish for the last 15 years and I don't expect anything to change in any real way soon," architect Raffaele Rusciani told Reuters.

On illegal immigration, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni announced that entering the country illegally would be punishable by up to four years in prison.

He also announced measures to deal with an influx of Roma, or Gypsy, people.

The BBC's David Willey, in Rome, says they are often perceived - rightly or wrongly - by the Italian public as responsible for an increase in violent crime.

Mr Maroni outlined measures to make expelling illegal immigrants easier and to restrict family members from joining those already living in the country.

The European Union raised concerns over a rash of arrests of suspected illegal immigrants in Italy last week but Mr Maroni sought to calm fears.

"As far as citizens of the European Community are concerned, we fully and completely respect the Commission's directives," he said.

Neapolitans torch rubbish piles
19 May 08 |  Europe
Profile: Silvio Berlusconi
15 Apr 08 |  Europe

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