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Neo-Nazi killing puts spotlight on Italian militants

by Phil Stew­art

ROME, May 5 (REUTERS) — The death on Mon­day of a man attacked by neo-Nazis threw the spot­light on polit­i­cal mil­i­tan­cy in Italy, prompt­ing the oppo­si­tion to ask if a right-wing sweep at an April elec­tion had fed a cli­mate of intol­er­ance.

The vic­tim, 29-year-old Nico­la Tom­ma­soli, final­ly suc­cumbed to his injuries and died on Mon­day after being beat­en into coma on May 1 by a group of youths iden­ti­fied by police as neo-Nazi soc­cer hooli­gans.

The beat­ing, in the north­ern city of Verona, was con­demned across the polit­i­cal spec­trum; police have so far ruled out any polit­i­cal motive for what appears to be an iso­lat­ed act of vio­lence.

Still, Italy’s cen­tre-left por­trayed it as a sign a grow­ing intol­er­ance in a coun­try where fears about crime — par­tic­u­lar­ly by immi­grants — con­tributed to their resound­ing defeat by the right in last mon­th’s nation­al and munic­i­pal elec­tions.

The inci­dent has put right-wingers on the defen­sive over the sug­ges­tion that sup­port by mil­i­tants helped them to win the April elec­tions, includ­ing the may­or­ship of Rome.

“The respon­si­bil­i­ty lies with right-wing pop­ulists,” said Pao­lo Fer­rero, a left­ist min­is­ter in the care­tak­er gov­ern­ment expect­ed to step down lat­er this week.

He accused the far right of cre­at­ing “scape­goats” for Italy’s social prob­lems that “brings in votes in a cli­mate of inse­cu­ri­ty, but also sows a long trail of hate”.

The defeat­ed cen­tre-left can­di­date for prime min­is­ter, Wal­ter Vel­troni, said: “We are faced with a neo-fas­cist-style aggres­sion that can­not and should not be under­es­ti­mat­ed”.

In an infor­mal poll by one tele­vi­sion sta­tion, 51 per­cent of respon­dents said they feared the Verona attack could her­ald the start of a new wave of vio­lent intol­er­ance.

The may­or of Verona, from the anti-immi­grant North­ern League which backed Sil­vio Berlus­coni as pre­mier, reject­ed any link between his par­ty and Tom­ma­soli’s assailants. “There are mil­lions of peo­ple that vot­ed for us. It could be that one of them is a crim­i­nal,” Tosi, who is crack­ing down on ille­gal immi­grants in Verona, a city made famous by Shake­speare’s “Romeo and Juli­et”.

But Tosi is not the only right-wing politi­cian who had to dis­tance him­self from far-right ele­ments.

Rome’s new May­or Gian­ni Ale­man­no urged sup­port­ers to avoid “excess­es” after a small group gave him the right-armed Roman salute asso­ci­at­ed with fas­cist dic­ta­tor Ben­i­to Mus­soli­ni and chant­ed “Duce!” (leader), as Mus­solin­i’s fol­low­ers called him.

Ale­man­no, whose Nation­al Alliance is the suc­ces­sor to the post-war neo-fas­cists but is try­ing to become a main­stream con­ser­v­a­tive par­ty, com­plained that the left tried to depict him as a fas­cist and anti-Semi­te dur­ing the cam­paign.

“We must con­demn any form of ide­o­log­i­cal extrem­ism regard­less of where it comes from,” said Ale­man­no as he vis­it­ed mon­u­ments in Rome to Jew­ish vic­tims of Nazi occu­pa­tion, Ital­ian wartime resis­tance heroes and Rome’s syn­a­gogue.

“There are extrem­ist fringes on the far right as well as the far left, but they are more an expres­sion of urban mar­gin­al­i­sa­tion than actu­al pol­i­tics.”

Dur­ing the may­oral race, Ale­man­no came under attack for wear­ing a Celtic cross round his neck — a sym­bol of the far right in Italy com­pa­ra­ble to the Nazi swasti­ka.


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