- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2008

NAPLES - Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Cabinet approved tough new measures against illegal immigrants and crime yesterday despite concerns in the European Union they could abet racism.

“Citizens have a fundamental right not to be afraid. The right not to be afraid is a right that a state worthy of the name must guarantee,” said Mr. Berlusconi, who won a third term promising to fight crime widely blamed on immigrants.

Honoring a campaign promise to hold his first full Cabinet meeting in Naples to highlight its trash crisis, Italy’s new conservative prime minister vowed to act “exactly as if it were an emergency caused by an earthquake or volcano eruption.”

Mr. Berlusconi, 71, approved a decree opening new landfills that will now be considered military zones, giving the army power to stop local residents from blocking roads and railway lines in protest against unwanted trash dumping in their neighborhoods.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, from the anti-immigrant Northern League party allied to Mr. Berlusconi’s People of Freedom, told reporters after the Cabinet meeting the new security laws would be rushed through parliament by the end of July.

They include making illegal immigration an incarceration offense, which has outraged European human rights groups and politicians.

Property rented to illegal immigrants will be confiscated and it will be a incarceration offense for adults to make children beg - a measure that appears to be aimed at people known in Italy as “nomads.”

The package makes it easier to expel illegal immigrants who run afoul of the law, check the income of immigrants from the EU and crack down on abuse of the asylum system to enter Italy.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg , criticized the package, saying, “Arrests should be used against criminals, which immigrants are not.”

The United Nations refugee agency was also critical, saying a new measure allowing the expulsion of people whose demand for asylum has been rejected before they can appeal went against the European Convention on Human Rights.

But Mr. Maroni said all the new measures respected EU norms.

“The accusations against us that have been made over the past few days are groundless,” he said.

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