- Associated Press - Sunday, April 28, 2013

ROME (AP) — An unemployed bricklayer shot two Italian policemen in a crowded square outside the premier’s office Sunday just as the nation’s new government was being sworn in, investigators said.

The gunman’s intended target was politicians, a top Italian official said after interviewing him.

Mired in recession and suffering from soaring unemployment, Italy has been in political paralysis since an inconclusive February election. Social and political tensions have been running high among voters divided between center-left, conservative and anti-government political parties.

Sunday was supposed to be a hopeful day when debt-ridden Italy finally got new government to solve its many problems. But shots rang out in Colonna Square near a busy shopping and strolling area shortly after 11:30 a.m. just as Premier Enrico Letta and his new ministers were taking their oaths at the president’s Quirinal Palace about a half-mile away.

The suspected gunman, dressed in a dark business suit, was immediately grabbed by other police outside Chigi Palace, which houses the premier’s office and other government offices. The politicians were supposed to have met at the palace later Sunday for their first Cabinet meeting.

Rome Prosecutor Pierfilippo Laviani told reporters he had questioned the alleged assailant, who was taken to a hospital with bruises after being wrestled to the ground. He identified the man as Luigi Preiti, 49, from Calabria, a southern agricultural area plagued by organized crime and chronic unemployment.

Mr. Laviani said Mr. Preiti had “confessed everything” and didn’t appear mentally unbalanced.

“He is a man full of problems, who lost his job, who lost everything,” the prosecutor said. “He was desperate. In general, he wanted to shoot at politicians, but given that he couldn’t reach any, he shot at the Carabinieri” paramilitary police.

One of the policemen, shot in the neck, was in critical condition. The other, shot in the leg, suffered a fracture, doctors said.

The shooting “was the tragic gesture of a 49-year-old unemployed man,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano told reporters after briefing Mr. Letta and his new Cabinet.

A woman passing by during the shooting was slightly injured, Rome’s mayor said. It was unclear if she was grazed by a bullet or hurt in the panic sparked by the gunfire.

The 46-year-old Mr. Letta had nailed down a coalition deal only a day ago between two bitter political enemies — his center-left forces and the conservative bloc of ex-Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Mr. Letta will speak to Parliament on Monday, laying out his strategy to reduce joblessness while still sticking to the austerity measures needed to keep the eurozone’s No. 3 economy from descending into a sovereign debt crisis. He will then face confidence votes.

A video surveillance camera on the Parliament building caught the attacker on film just before and during the shooting, Italian news reports said.

The attacker was walking at a steady pace along a narrow street that leads from the square outside Parliament’s lower house to the square outside the premier’s office, when police officers appear to have stopped him to ask where he was going.

About 90 minutes later, Mr. Letta and his ministers were due to enter Chigi Palace. It was not immediately known if the attacker knew about their arrival.

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