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Europe

Italy Announces State of Emergency Over Immigration

The government of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced on Saturday a nationwide state of emergency in reaction to a stark increase in illegal immigration to the country's south.

Would-be immigrants stand on the deck of a patrol ship, off the coast of Lampedusa island, near Sicily, southern Italy

Italy has faced the problem of illegal immigration for many years

The move is to provide local authorities with greater means to deal with the rising tide of wound-be immigrants arriving by boat.

According to the daily La Repubblica, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni plans to build new intake centers throughout the country.

According to the interior ministry, over 10,600 boat people arrived in Italy in the first half of 2008, nearly twice as many as the 5,378 that came in the same period in 2007.

The Italian government called a state of emergency with a wave of refugees in 2002. That state of emergency was renewed annually -- even under the center-left government of Romano Prodi.

Because intake centers in February 2008 seemed sufficient, the Prodi government limited the state of emergency to the three southern regions of Calabria, Sicily and Puglia. The Berlusconi government at the behest of the interior ministry has now widened the powers to the entire country.

Lambasted by the opposition

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi standing in front of an EU flag

Silvio Berlusconi wants to curb illegal immigration

Warning of the introduction of a "police state," the country's opposition attacked the measures sharply, calling them abhorrent.

"Italy does not need inhuman and extraordinary measures," said parliamentarian Rocco Buttiglione, according to a report by the Turin-based daily La Stampa on Saturday.

In response, Maroni criticized what he claimed was the opposition intention to make the state of emergency seem like an entirely new development, and called the opposition position "the worst Italian politics."

The interior minister is to face parliament on Tuesday.

Berlusconi's priority

Berlusconi, who was elected prime minister in April, had declared the fight against illegal immigration a priority. A first step was the passage this week of a package of new security laws brought forward by the conservative government.

The number of illegal immigrants in Italy is estimated at around 650,000. Tens of thousands of refugees attempt the dangerous journey in less-than-seaworthy boats from North Africa into southern Europe each year.

Overnight, another 73 would-be immigrants arrived in two boats at the Italian island of Lampedusa.

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