( AFP ) - Italian officials raised fears of an anti-Romanian "vendetta" Saturday, following apparent reprisal attacks the day before over the death of a woman allegedly killed by a Romanian.
"Unfortunately, it's what we fear," Interior Minister Giuliano Amato told La Repubblica daily of Friday's attacks against three Romanians by masked men armed with sticks.
"We must prevent this terrible tiger that is xenophobic hatred, the racist beast, from leaving its cage," Amato said.
Meanwhile, Rome marked a day of mourning Saturday for Giovanna Reggiani, a 47-year-old naval officer's wife who was allegedly attacked and found comatose in a ditch outside Rome. She later died in a hospital.
Several hundred people attended her funeral Saturday, including Amato and Rome's Mayor Walter Veltroni.
A 24-year-old Romanian youth was arrested Tuesday and stands accused of being Reggiani's assailant, which he denies. Her assault prompted an emergency decree Wednesday to facilitate expulsions of EU citizens considered a security threat.
The decree has been applied almost immediately, with authorities in northern Milan expelling four Romanians Friday and signing four new expulsion orders Saturday, according to Italy's ANSA news agency.
Authorities in northern Turin, Genoa, Val d'Aosta and Lecce in southern Italy also followed suit Saturday, the news agency reported.
All the decrees must be approved by judges to take effect and they only last three years. Those expelled have a month to leave the country.
Last year 15.4 percent of foreigners accused of murder, sexual violence and theft in Italy were Romanian, police say.
But Friday's attack against the three Romanians at a supermarket parking lot by 10 masked men armed with sticks, knives and iron bars has raised concern of reprisals against ordinary members of the Romanian community, Italy's largest immigrant group.
Initial reports said four were targeted in the attack in a southern Roman suburb, near shantytowns where foreigners live in squalor.
The most seriously injured, Emil Marcu, 47, was in a stable condition following an overnight operation, according to hospital sources quoted by ANSA. Witnesses told police the assailants, who fled the scene, were Italian.
Reaction to the assaults was swift, with Italian media linking the incident to Reggiani's death -- although the two events occurred some 20 kilometres ( 12 miles) apart -- and politicians of all stripes warning against reprisals against Romanians.
"We must avoid at all cost a spiral of vendettas to be established," said Fabrizio Cicchitto of the conservative Forza Italia party of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Rome Mayor Veltroni, recently crowned the new leader of Italy's centre-left and the heir apparent to Prime Minister Romano Prodi, also urged people to "be inspired by the values of civil society, and not by vendetta."
Similar criticism was aired by Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alemo, followed Saturday by his ministry which said that "Romanian public opinion as a whole expects Italian state institutions to take measures so that such xenophobic acts are not repeated," it said.
Still, the attacks have sparked partisan sparring, with the left accusing the right of using the tragedy for their political ends and Berlusconi charging the leftist government of being lax on security.