Troops deployed in Italian cities against crime and illegal immigration
Soldiers were deployed throughout Italy on Monday to control embassies, subway and railroad stations and centers for illegal immigrants as part of broader government measures to fight crime.
By the time it is fully in effect next week, the effort will place about 3,000 soldiers alongside regular police and military police officers, a visible signal to citizens that the government "has responded to their demands for greater security," Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said in an interview on the Italian Sky News channel.
The conservative government of Silvio Berlusconi won elections in April promising to crack down on petty crime and illegal immigration, which polls have indicated are primary concerns here.
"Security is something concrete," La Russa said Monday. And the troops will be a concrete "deterrent to criminals," though they cannot make arrests.
Critics have condemned the deployment as a superfluous measure that could prove counterproductive.
"Putting troops on the street sends a dramatic message that the situation is more serious than it is in reality," the leader of the opposition party Democratic Left, Marco Minniti, said in a telephone interview.
Instead of instilling a sense of security, he asserted, militarizing Italian cities "will do quite the opposite."
On Monday, soldiers began patrolling dozens of cities. In Milan, troops were stationed around the Gothic cathedral, and in Naples they kept an eye on the American Consulate.
Television news stations showed military officials searching immigrants' suitcases at subway stations.
In the capital, troops will be stationed around embassies, consulates and centers for illegal immigrants in outlying neighborhoods.
They will not be securing the city's historic monuments. Local officials said they felt that a military presence could scare off tourists.
"They will only be in areas where they have no impact on normal citizens," said Rome's mayor, Gianni Alemmano.
Other critics of the measure, part of a larger anti-crime package pushed through Parliament last month, argued that Italy's military was better suited to dealing with emergencies in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq than with domestic urban crises.
"You need to be specially trained to carry out some kinds of controls," said Nicola Tanzi, the secretary of a trade union that represents the police. "Soldiers just aren't qualified."
He also questioned whether the cost of the operation, put at €60 million, or $93 million, might not have been better spent increasing the budgets for the police and military police.
"Structures and qualified people already exist, and they do an excellent job with dwindling means at their disposal," Tanzi said. "This is not the right way to create security."
The armed forces have been used in domestic security missions in the past, in particular in fighting Mafia violence. In 1992, after the anti-Mafia magistrates Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were killed in Mafia bombings, the government sent 20,000 troops to Sicily where they remained until 1998.
Troops also have been sent to fight organized crime in Campania and Calabria, and they were deployed to protect airports, electricity power stations and potential terrorist targets after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.