Thousands of immigrants protested against racism in a southern Italian town on Friday, after a night of rioting sparked by an attack on African farm workers by a gang of white youths.
In one of Italy’s worst episodes of racial unrest in years, dozens of Africans in Rosarno, in the Calabria region, smashed car windows with steel bars and stones and set cars and rubbish bins on fire late into Thursday night.
Police said at least one car was attacked while passengers were inside–several of whom were injured.
The immigrants, who also blocked a road, clashed with police in riot gear. Police said 7 immigrants were arrested. Thirty-two people, including 18 policemen, were injured.
The incidents took place after white youths in a car fired air rifles at a group of African immigrants returning from work on farms, injuring two of them.
On Friday morning some 2,000 immigrants demonstrated in front of the town hall to protest against what they said was racist treatment by many locals. Some shouted “we are not animals” and carried signs reading “Italians here are racist”.
Scattered acts of vandalism by immigrants continued on Friday morning as some smashed store windows. Police said that in two separate incidents Rosarno residents had tried to run over immigrants with their cars.
Maroni [Interior Minister Roberto Maroni], from the far-right Northern League party that is a junior partner in Silvio Berlusconi’s government, sparked controversy when he said one of the reasons for the violence was that illegal immigration had been “tolerated all these years”.
Opposition leader Pierluigi Bersani and several centre-left politicians accused Maroni of fuelling the tensions.
“Maroni is passing the buck . . . we have to go to the roots of the problem: Mafia, exploitation, xenophobia and racism,” Bersani said.
Italy has taken a hard line against illegal immigration and has moved to stem a tide of immigrants who board boats in Africa to try to reach its southern shores. Some boats have been turned back on the open seas.