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Romanian groups blast ‘xenophobic attitude’ in Italy

Bucharest — Romanian rights groups condemned recent "xenophobic attitudes and attacks" in Italy after a series of rapes there were blamed on immigrants amid calls for drastic punishments.

In a joint letter, anti-discrimination groups condemned "the collective blame against Romanians" and criticised the government in Bucharest for failing to react, calling on Foreign Minister Cristian Diaconescu to raise the issue at the next European Union meeting on February 23.

The organisations accused Italy of violating European law on human rights and the fight against racism and xenophobia, following recent attacks on immigrants and controversial comments by Italian politicians.

Four Romanians were beaten up by masked assailants at a Pakistani restaurant in Rome earlier this week after several sex attacks were 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 surgically castrated as "society has to protect itself."

A series of violent crimes including rape and murder blamed on Romanian immigrants, notably from the Roma ethnic group, played a key role in April 2008 elections, which culminated in a win for Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

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

Diaconescu was to meet his Italian counterpart Franco Frattini in Rome on Monday and said he expected "clarifications."

Friday, he told foreign reporters in Romania that it was necessary "to widen and improve our consular services, to inform our countrymen — workers or tourists — of their rights and responsibilities," noting that the number of Romanians living abroad had increased 10-fold in the past five years.

Prime Minister Emil Boc also said Wednesday that Romanians in Italy should not be made to pay for crimes committed by some of their compatriots and insisted on the need to protect the rights of Romanians to work and move freely within Europe.