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Italian party urges use of weapons against refugee 'invasion'

Two politicians from Italy's Northern League party want to control Italy's refugee problem by taking up weapons. The staunchly anti-immigration party is an increasingly strong voice in Silvio Berlusconi's government.

Refugees on a boat

Italian authorities cannot cope with the volume of refugees

Two right-wing politicians from Italy's Northern League party have pushed for the ability to use weapons against the influx of migrants flocking to southern Italy.

More than 25,000 migrants, mostly Tunisian nationals, have arrived at the southern Italian island of Lampedusa since January, prompted by the conflict in the North Africa.

Speaking to an Italian broadcaster, Deputy Transport Minister Roberto Castelli said Italy needed to protect itself against the "invasion."

"This problem could become so unbelievably big that we must ask ourselves if we need to use weapons," he said. "There is a risk this invasion could grow to millions or tens of millions."

'Violating Italy'

His comments were echoed by his party colleague, Francesco Speroni ,who is a member of the justice committee in the European Parliament.

Line of migrants and a police officer

Speroni said Italy should be able to defend its borders with force

He said "all means" should be used to suppress the influx of people who are "violating Italy and her rules."

"That means weapons as a last resort," he added.

Both politicians argued that if resorting to force was admissible in Libya, then the same should be true of the situation in Lampedusa.

"Europe uses weapons in the same setting in Libya. I don't understand why in one case weapons can be used, and not in another," said Speroni.

League's political power

The Northern League is staunchly anti-immigration and is a partner in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition government. They have several representatives in Berlusconi's cabinet, including Interior Minister Roberto Maroni.

At a meeting of EU interior ministers on Monday, Maroni questioned whether Italy should remain an EU member if other countries in the bloc did not offer to share the burden of the thousands of migrants.

Umberto Bossi whispering to Silvio Berlusconi

Northern League leader Umberto Bossi has a big influence on Berlusconi

The Northern League currently holds a great deal of power in Italian politics, as they are the glue keeping Berlusconi's crumbing coalition together.

In power since 1994, Berlusconi's ruling Freedom Party has suffered setbacks in recent months, as the prime minister became embroiled in fresh scandals.

Several members of Berlusconi's government resigned in November, forming a breakaway center-right political movement under the guidance of former Berlusconi-ally Gianfranco Fini.

Berlusconi now heavily relies on the Northern League to prop up the coalition, meaning he also has to make concessions to them in order to ensure their continued support.

Shortened trials

On Wednesday Italy's lower house of parliament approved a bill that would cut the length of some criminal trials. The measure was seen by opposition politicians as a bill tailor-made to end Berlusconi's trial for allegedly bribing his lawyer David Mills.

The measure passed by a narrow margin of 314 to 296, amid boos and shouts from the opposition.

If passed by the Senate - where Berlusconi has a strong majority - it would cut eight months from the Mills trial, effectively bringing it to an end this summer.

"The law on short trials is an amnesty in disguise, thought up to avoid having the prime minister face trial," said Piero Fassino, a deputy from the center-left Democratic Party.

Berlusconi denies accusations of paying Mills a $600,000 (414,400 euros) bribe to give false testimony about his business dealings.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the parliament building on Wednesday, accusing Berlusconi of amending the law in his own interest.

Author: Catherine Bolsover (Reuters, AFP, dpa)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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