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Romania, Italy look to stem crime wave

Published on 25/02/2009

Rome -- The foreign ministers of Italy and Romania vowed Monday to pursue a campaign of "zero tolerance" to stem a crime wave that has inflamed relations between Italians and Romanian immigrants.

Italy’s Franco Frattini called on Romanian counterpart Cristian Diaconescu to send more police officers in addition to the 15 already working in Italy who helped track down those responsible for a recent rape.

"We are hoping for more Romanian police officers to work with Italian security forces in the struggle against the crimes that are creating a particular social tension, like rapes and murder," Frattini said. "We have no tolerance for those who commit these crimes, whatever their nationality. We believe it is fair that those sentenced in a definitive manner by Italian justice return to their own country to serve their sentence."

Diaconescu agreed on the need for a "zero tolerance" policy and promised the full cooperation of the Romanian government but said Bucharest would not budge from its commitment to allow its citizens free movement.

"We will not however take any measure limiting the right of our citizens to free movement," he said, explaining this right was seen as a hard-fought achievement of the Romanian people since the fall of Communism.

Diaconescu had reproached certain representatives of the Italian government earlier this month for their "extremely aggressive and provocative rhetoric," which he said bordered on being "xenophobic."

Four Romanians were beaten up by masked assailants at a Pakistani restaurant in Rome last week by a group of would-be vigilantes looking to avenge several sex attacks allegedly committed by men from eastern Europe and northern Africa.

An Italian government minister then poured oil on the fire by calling for some rapists to be castrated because "society has to protect itself."

According to Romanian media, some 20 attacks have targeted Romanians in Italy in recent weeks.

A series of violent crimes including rape and murder blamed on Romanian immigrants, notably from the Roma ethnic group, played a key role in elections last year that culminated in a win for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Romanians are now Italy’s largest immigrant community, numbering some 342,000 according to official statistics and more than half a million according to the Catholic organisation Caritas.