Page last updated at 10:14 GMT, Wednesday, 28 May 2008 11:14 UK

Italy condemned for 'racism wave'

Firemen hose down a camp of Roma people that was set on fire on the outskirts of Naples (file images from 14 May 2008)
Police have had to intervene to protect Italy's Roma community

Human rights group Amnesty International has said it is extremely alarmed by what it calls a "climate of discrimination" in Italy.

The Italian section of the rights body said recent tough new immigration measures were a worrying trend.

It added that politicians from both sides of the spectrum were legitimising the use of racist language.

Last week, Italy's new centre-right government introduced a series of measures aimed at improving security.

Illegal immigration will become punishable by up to four years in prison, it will be easier to expel illegal immigrants and there will be a three-year prison sentence for using minors to beg for money.

Attacks on Roma

But the head of Amnesty International in Italy, Daniela Carboni, said the moves represented "heavy restrictions and new crimes that will target, above all, immigrants".

She said the organisation was particularly worried by the measure that would mean attempted illegal immigrants could be held for up to 18 months in a detention centre.

"Amnesty International is extremely alarmed both by the contents and haste of these measures... and by the climate of discrimination which preceded them," Ms Carboni said in the report.

2007 was characterised by the impotence of Western governments
Amnesty International annual report

There is deep suspicion throughout the country of the Roma community, whom many Italians blame for a disproportionate amount of crime.

In mid-May Italian police were forced to intervene to protect Roma Gypsies who came under attack from local residents in Naples, who set their camps alight.

Ms Carboni urged the Italian government to investigate fully the torching of the two Roma slum communities.

In April's national elections the centre-right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi - which includes the anti-immigration Northern League and the post-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale - swept to victory, pledging to tackle illegal immigration.

In Rome, Gianni Alemanno, also of the Alleanza Nazionale, was elected mayor on a pledge to expel 20,000 people.

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