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Disaster body chief quits over L'Aquila ruling

The chief of Italy's disaster committee has quit his post. He left in protest against this week's sentencing of seven experts for underestimating the likelihood of the L'Aquila earthquake in 2009, that killed 309 people.

The head of Italy's leading disaster body resigned on Tuesday after seven of his organization's former members were handed jail sentences on Monday for failing to warn Italian citizens of a deadly earthquake that hit the medieval town of L'Aquila in 2009.

"I do not see the conditions to work in peace," the president of the national Major Risks Committee, Luciano Maiami, said to news agency ANSA, which added that other members of the panel were thought likely to join Maiami in resigning.

"These are professionals who spoke in good faith and were by no means motivated by personal interests, they had always said that it is not possible to predict an earthquake," the former head of the particle physics laboratory Cern also told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

"It is impossible to produce serious, professional and disinterested advice under this mad judicial and media pressure. This sort of thing doesn't happen anywhere else in the world," he said.

"This is the end of scientists giving consultations to the state."

The committee that Maiami has quit offers advice to Italy's civil protection authority about the risk of various natural catastrophes occurring, from landslides to chemical disasters.

A controversial ruling

Maiami's departure comes the day after an Italian judge sentenced six scientists and a government official to six years imprisonment each for underestimating the risk of an earthquake in L'Aquila in 2009. The earthquake, which had a magnitude of 6.3, ripped through the central Italian town on April 6, 2009, killing 309 people and making tens of thousands of people homeless.

Low-level seismic activity had been occurring in L'Aquila since January in the lead up to the catastrophe.

The convicted experts are expected to launch an appeal against their sentencing. In accordance with Italian law, they will be free until they have used their two chances to appeal, a process which could take years.

sej/rc (AFP, Reuters, dpa)