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Italy: Italian President calls for xenophobia halt


Rome,(ANSA): Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Monday appealed for a stop to xenophobia in Italy after an incident in which three men beat and set fire to a homeless Indian immigrant.

The 35-year-old immigrant had been sleeping rough at a train station at a seaside town near Rome when he was attacked and covered in petrol on Sunday.

Police are questioning two adults and a minor over the incident, which Napolitano described as one in a series of ''horrifying episodes''. ''By now these cannot be considered as isolated events but as alarming symptoms of a widespread trend that is unfortunately growing,'' he said. ''I appeal strongly to those who have institutional, cultural and educational responsibility to commit themselves fully to putting a stop to any display of xenophobia, racism and violence''.

Some observers however suggested that the attack on the Indian immigrant was not racially motivated, citing a similar incident in Rimini last year when an Italian homeless person was set alight.

Police said the three men admitted they had attacked the Indian immigrant in order to ''cap off'' a night on the town, fuelled by drugs and alcohol, by doing something ''sensational, to experience an intense emotion''.

Nevertheless, Italy has seen a string of apparently racist attacks over the last year, including the burning of gypsy camps in Naples in May.

Among other high-profile cases, an immigrant from Burkina Faso was killed in September by a Milan shopkeeper who allegedly beat him to death with an iron bar after hurling racist insults, claiming he had stolen a packet of biscuits. In October a Chinese immigrant was beaten up by teenagers while waiting for a bus in Rome and a young student from Ghana was allegedly beaten by traffic police who mistook him for a drugs pusher in Parma.

The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner has repeatedly criticised Italy for a government crackdown on gypsies and illegal immigrants, warning that it could fuel xenophobia and racism in the country. The government has rebutted such criticism and said in January that it would formally complain about Thomas Hammarberg's comments, which ''gravely offended the feelings of Italians'' and ''took an unacceptable tone against a European country whose history and traditions of democracy, tolerance and respect for human rights cannot be called into question''.

The government insists that its crackdown on gypsy camps is to help gypsies integrate and encourage children into school, while its immigration policy is bringing Italy into line with the rest of the European Union.

A government report on immigrant relations presented in April showed that 42% of Italians are happy to see immigrants in Italy, recognising them as an economic resource for national industry as well as providing valuable services in caring for the elderly.

But anti-immigrant feeling has hit a new high here after a 21-year-old Italian woman was allegedly gang raped and her boyfriend brutally beaten by a group of five Romanians near Rome last week.

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