Page last updated at 22:13 GMT, Wednesday, 16 July 2008 23:13 UK

Italy plans to extend ID scheme

A Roma family take part in a demonstration against the fingerprinting in Rome, 10 July
Italy's plan to fingerprint only the Roma was labelled discriminatory

Italy's government has sought to defuse a row over its move to fingerprint Roma people by proposing that everyone living in Italy is fingerprinted.

Under the plan, fingerprints would feature from 2010 on the identity cards Italian citizens and residents carry.

The fingerprinting of Roma, including children, as part of a crime crackdown had been criticised as discriminatory.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi argued it was needed to ensure Roma children went to school and were integrated.

An estimated 150,000 Roma live in Italy, mainly in squalid conditions in an estimated 700 encampments on the outskirts of major cities such as Rome, Milan and Naples.

Officials began taking fingerprints from Roma in encampments in Naples several weeks ago. Identification of those living in camps in Rome and elsewhere is expected to begin soon.

Italy's right-wing government introduced the measure saying it would cut crime, avoid children being used for begging and help identify illegal immigrants for expulsion.

'Racial discrimination'

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says the proposal that all Italians and foreign residents will have to be fingerprinted when new-style identity cards come into circulation in 2010 appears to have defused the controversy.

A Roma man leaves a camp on the outskirts of Naples, Italy (15 May 2008)
Police raids have focused on Italy's Roma community

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League, has however ordered that the fingerprinting of all Roma people in Italy is to continue in the coming months, our correspondent says.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Walter Veltroni has called for an immediate halt to the fingerprinting of the Roma community until the new proposal is agreed, Reuters news agency reports.

It was approved by a parliamentary committee on Wednesday but has still to be passed by the Italian parliament.

Last week, the European Parliament joined Italy's left-wing opposition, the Romanian government and the Roman Catholic church in condemning the fingerprinting of Italy's Roma community.

It described the measure as a direct act of racial discrimination and adopted a non-binding resolution calling on Italy to halt the process immediately.

The European Parliament also urged the European Commission to see if the move - which had also been criticised by UN children's agency Unicef - was violating European law.

Italians have for many years been obliged to carry identity cards bearing a photograph, which they have to show to the police upon demand.

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