Neo-Nazi killing puts spotlight on Italian militants

Reuters/May 5, 2008

Rome - The death on Monday of a man attacked by neo-Nazis threw the spotlight on political militancy in Italy, prompting the opposition to ask if a right-wing sweep at an April election had fed a climate of intolerance.

The victim, 29-year-old Nicola Tommasoli, finally succumbed to his injuries and died on Monday after being beaten into coma on May 1 by a group of youths identified by police as neo-Nazi soccer hooligans.

The beating, in the northern city of Verona, was condemned across the political spectrum; police have so far ruled out any political motive for what appears to be an isolated act of violence.

Still, Italy's centre-left portrayed it as a sign a growing intolerance in a country where fears about crime -- particularly by immigrants -- contributed to their resounding defeat by the right in last month's national and municipal elections.

The incident has put right-wingers on the defensive over the suggestion that support by militants helped them to win the April elections, including the mayorship of Rome.

"The responsibility lies with right-wing populists," said Paolo Ferrero, a leftist minister in the caretaker government expected to step down later this week.

He accused the far right of creating "scapegoats" for Italy's social problems that "brings in votes in a climate of insecurity, but also sows a long trail of hate".

The defeated centre-left candidate for prime minister, Walter Veltroni, said: "We are faced with a neo-fascist-style aggression that cannot and should not be underestimated".

In an informal poll by one television station, 51 percent of respondents said they feared the Verona attack could herald the start of a new wave of violent intolerance.

City of love?

The mayor of Verona, from the anti-immigrant Northern League which backed Silvio Berlusconi as premier, rejected any link between his party and Tommasoli's assailants. "There are millions of people that voted for us. It could be that one of them is a criminal," Tosi, who is cracking down on illegal immigrants in Verona, a city made famous by Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet".

But Tosi is not the only right-wing politician who had to distance himself from far-right elements.

Rome's new Mayor Gianni Alemanno urged supporters to avoid "excesses" after a small group gave him the right-armed Roman salute associated with fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and chanted "Duce!" (leader), as Mussolini's followers called him.

Alemanno, whose National Alliance is the successor to the post-war neo-fascists but is trying to become a mainstream conservative party, complained that the left tried to depict him as a fascist and anti-Semite during the campaign.

"We must condemn any form of ideological extremism regardless of where it comes from," said Alemanno as he visited monuments in Rome to Jewish victims of Nazi occupation, Italian wartime resistance heroes and Rome's synagogue.

"There are extremist fringes on the far right as well as the far left, but they are more an expression of urban marginalisation than actual politics."

During the mayoral race, Alemanno came under attack for wearing a Celtic cross round his neck -- a symbol of the far right in Italy comparable to the Nazi swastika. (Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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