EIGHT Italian police officers have been placed under house arrest and hundreds of others are being investigated for alleged brutality during violent clashes with anti-globalization protesters a year ago.
The move has infuriated the center-right Government of Silvio Berlusconi while reviving left-wing charges that Italy’s shift to the Right has encouraged Fascist tendencies in the police force. The uproar comes amid the build-up to anti-globalization protests in London, Rome and Paris on Wednesday to mark May Day. It also comes as G8 officials prepare for the next summit, in Alberta in June.
The eight officers are accused of beating and humiliating demonstrators after “kidnapping” them from hospital casualty wards after riots in Naples ahead of the G8 summit in Genoa.
Francesco Meloni, the chief prosecutor in Genoa, said that the arrests would have a clear impact on investigations into the riots that affected the G8 summit in July. He said that hundreds of police officers involved in the disturbances, in which a demonstrator was killed, were under investigation.
Police trade unions said that they would turn the tables by staging torchlit demonstrations tonight to express mounting police anger. “It is our turn to be the protesters,” a spokesman said. He added that it was grotesque to blame the police for trying to maintain order rather than the anarchists.
Aides to Signor Berlusconi said that, although the disturbances in Genoa had taken place two months after the Center Right’s victory in elections last May, the riots in Naples in March had occurred at the tail end of the previous center-left Government.
Gianfranco Fini, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Alleanza Nazionale — the reformed descendant of Mussolini’s Fascist Party — gave warning of serious repercussions if the police arrests proved to be unjustified.
At the weekend hundreds of policemen, in plainclothes and wearing handcuffs, formed a human chain around the courthouse in Naples to protest at the arrests. Nicola Izzo, the Naples Chief of Police, said that this was not a revolt but an expression of solidarity between colleagues. He said that the police may have made mistakes, but it was almost impossible to maintain public order in the face of well-planned violence. The conference on world poverty in Naples took place as anti-globalization protesters, sheltering behind shields, threw stones and petrol bombs at police and smashed bank windows.
La Repubblica said that although hard core anarchists had taken part in the Naples and Genoa disturbances, many of those caught up in the mayhem had been peaceful demonstrators or even bystanders. The newspaper quoted an investigator’s report in Naples, which concluded that the police barracks had been converted into “a torture chamber . . . a fetid cesspit of urine, feces, vomit and blood”.
The report quoted a female protester who was suffering from panic attacks after being stripped and sexually humiliated by male and female officers. Others — including some who were disabled — testified that they had been beaten, kicked and sexually assaulted or threatened. Some had been forced to sing Fascist-era songs or kiss portraits of Mussolini.
Walter Veltroni, the left-wing Mayor of Rome, said yesterday that he was disgusted after Fascist sympathizers plastered central Rome with pictures of Mussolini under cover of darkness to commemorate the anniversary of his death at the hands of partisans. Signor Veltroni urged the Right to condemn “this provocative and imbecilic act”.
Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd.