Italy has shocked a major United Nations agency by saying it wants to switch a world food summit from Rome to Africa because it believes Western governments cannot contain violent anti-globalization activists.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has decided it is too risky to host the Food and Agricultural Organization's November summit, expected to draw representatives from 185 countries.
He is reported to have said that anarchists who turned Genoa into a war zone during last month's G8 meeting could inflict even more damage on Rome's monuments and reputation.
Berlusconi is not alone in his dilemma. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien decided that next June's Group of Eight summit in Canada should be held in Kananaskis, a remote mountain resort in Alberta that will be relatively easy to defend.
Critics accused Berlusconi of surrendering the authority of the state to a few thousand extremists who could now claim victory over the rule of law.
No formal announcement has been made but, according to leaks from a meeting last week, the Prime Minister said he could not afford another public relations calamity of riots and police brutality.
'Too risky, we will move the summit to the Third World,' he said, and promised to cover the cost of switching at such short notice.
The Foreign Ministry is understood to be contacting African governments with the official line that a summit about hunger should be held in a developing country. Italian media suggested Kenya was the likeliest host. A spokesman for Berlusconi yesterday declined to confirm or deny the reports.
Nick Parsons, the FAO's spokesman, told The Observer: 'We all know what happened in Genoa but until we hear something officially from the Italian government we are not responding to these reports. So far we have heard nothing.'
The FAO is one of the UN's biggest agencies and has been based in Rome for half a century. The four-day summit, scheduled to start on 5 November, was called to review progress in its goal of halving the number of hungry people by 2015.
Websites of the hardline Black Bloc anarchists, who caused havoc at the G8 despite 18,000 police, said Rome was the next target. Violence in Genoa left one dead, more than 300 injured and the government's reputation in shreds.
Peaceful activists such as the Frenchman Jose Bove have also identified Rome as the anti-globalization movement's next rallying point.
The FAO's director-general, Jacques Diouf, has argued in vain that his agency's job was to help feed 800 million hungry people, not further globalization. 'The purpose of this event is to give new impetus to worldwide efforts on behalf of hungry people.'
Relocating the summit away from the headquarters would be too expensive and effectively force its cancellation, said one source. Opposition politicians savaged the Italian proposal as an admission that the state could no longer guarantee public order.
Forty-nine people remain in detention and eight investigations are under way following the clashes in Genoa, a prosecutor announced.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001