Italy: Citizen crime patrols to begin next week

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Rome, 4 August (AKI) - Citizens will begin anti-crime patrols in Italian cities from next week, interior minister Roberto Maroni said on Tuesday. City mayors will decide whether to set up local patrols, and police will then vet volunteers who wish to take part, said Maroni, who belongs to the anti-immigrant Northern League party.

"The patrols will be formed according to precise and extremely stringent criteria," Maroni told his party newspaper, La Padania.

He said he would sign a decree authorising the patrols, which will be backed by security forces, later this week.

Government decrees need approval by the Italian parliament within three months to become law.

Volunteers will be carefully chosen, will be unarmed, and will receive extensive training before the anti-crime patrols start, Maroni said.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government, elected last year on a promise to crack down on crime, has backed its Northern League ally's controversial plan for unarmed citizens' patrols to help police and soldiers on the streets.

Italy's left-wing opposition and civil rights groups oppose the patrols. They fear they could be infiltrated by criminal or extremist "vigilante" elements and that racial discrimination and violence could ensue.

But Maroni has vowed to proceed with the plan, despite concern over the possible fascist links of at least one group which is keen to participate.

At least five people were injured and two others arrested late last month after clashes between left-wing and right-wing youth gangs in the central Italian town of Massa, reviving controversy over the planned citizen anti-crime patrols.

Two leaders of the far-left 'Antifascist Proletariat Patrol' group were arrested after the clashes late on 25 July in the Tuscan city, when its members took to the streets against the right-wing "SSS" group which had begun self-styled patrols in the town.

Maroni rejected any connection between the clashes in Massa and the citizen anti-crime patrols planned by the government. continues here

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