Page last updated at 14:03 GMT, Sunday, 15 June 2008 15:03 UK

Row in Italy over army deployment

Italian soldier in Afghanistan
Italian soldiers may have to target pickpockets in Milan

A political row has broken out in Italy over the government's decision to deploy troops on the streets of major Italian cities to fight against crime.

About 2,500 soldiers are to be deployed for a maximum period of one year.

The opposition has described the move as a mistake. "We are not in Colombia," said opposition MP Antonio di Pietro.

The police say it will not work - the government's decision is tantamount to saying they are not up to the task of maintaining law and order.

Travellers at Milan's main railway station could be among the first to experience the government's new strategy, says the BBC's Mark Duff in the northern Italian city.


Up to 300 soldiers are expected to carry out patrols and security checks there to help combat muggers and pickpockets.

In an attempt to calm its critics, the government now says soldiers will only be deployed on an experimental basis for at most a year, but that has not been enough to satisfy everyone, our correspondent says.

"Using armed forces to control cities is a mistake by an authoritarian regime," said Antonio Di Pietro, who heads a small centre-left party.

"We are not in Colombia where these forces are used to fight terrorism and armed insurrection," he said, warning that the move would threaten tourism to Italy.

Centre-left leader Walter Veltroni described the move as "the wrong choice that humiliates forces of law and order".

Italy's defence minister, however, says there is no risk of confrontation between the army and the police.

Ignazio la Russa recalled that it had been the centre-left Italian opposition to order the deployment of the army in 1992, after anti-Mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were assassinated in Sicily.

It is believed to be the only peacetime deployment since WWII.

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