Three Romanians were in hospitals in Rome yesterday - one of them seriously injured - after being attacked by a masked, club-wielding gang on Friday night in the latest escalation of racial tension in Italy following the beating to death of a naval captain's wife.
The violence, condemned by local politicians, came as authorities in Milan carried out the first expulsions of Romanians under new legislation that came into effect on Friday allowing for the removal of EU citizens judged to be a threat to public security. Italian television showed four men being hustled aboard an airliner by police after nightfall.
Emotions were again running high yesterday at a funeral service in Rome for Giovanna Reggiani, the 47-year-old woman who was discovered fatally injured in a ditch on Tuesday after being savagely attacked. A young Romanian has been arrested and jailed. He has admitted snatching her bag, but denies beating and sexually assaulting her.
A thousand people packed into the church, in a well-heeled district of the capital, for an ecumenical service conducted by a Protestant pastor and the Italian navy's Roman Catholic chaplain. Large numbers gathered outside, many of them tearful, middle-aged women.
Ms Reggiani, though married to a Catholic, was a member of Italy's tiny Protestant community, the Waldensians. Her husband, the commander of the navy's minesweeping squadron, arrived at the church holding a single red rose. Those who sat nearby said that, throughout the service, he muttered over and again: 'It's not fair'.
Ms Reggiani's death has profoundly shocked the Italian middle classes. She was robbed, stripped of most of her clothes and ferociously beaten in a lonely part of northern Rome, but one that was until recently considered safe and respectable enough for officers' married quarters. In just a few years, it has become a haunt for prostitutes and pimps, dotted with encampments set up by the latest wave of immigrants from eastern European.
Bulldozers yesterday moved in to destroy the one where Reggiani's alleged killer, Nicolae Mailat, a shepherd-turned-labourer, lived with his mother. They and some 50 to 60 other Roma occupied a string of fragile shacks hidden in a copse.
Another makeshift settlement, in a supermarket car park on the other side of Rome, was the target of Friday night's attack. Yesterday, there were still pools of blood on the ground.
An eyewitness, who gave her name as Cristina,t said she had come out of the supermarket to see six to eight men arrive, carrying metal bars, staves and knives. Their faces were concealed by balaclavas and motorcycle helmets.
The most seriously injured was Emil Marcu, 47. Doctors said he had a deep stab wound in the back, but his life was not in danger.
A spokesman for a newly founded far-right group, Fabio Sabbatani Schiuma, said he condemned the attack but called it 'the product of a climate of exasperation'. Anti-foreigner graffiti on the walls of the surrounding, working-class area echoed his words. One woman said: 'We've had enough of them. My dad was mugged for his pension just at the end of this road.'
The vast majority of the 560,000 Romanians who have poured into Italy since visa restrictions were lifted five years ago have come to work. But the government says they account for a disproportionate share of crime, including more than five per cent of murders.
Many of the recent arrivals have come to Rome where they live in sub-human conditions, often by the banks of the Tiber river. Others have made their way to other cities like Milan where the authorities said yesterday that another 12 expulsions had been authorised by judges. ( Gardian )