Two African street vendors have been killed in a shooting attack in Italy. The gunman - a far-right author - killed himself after the incident, which has been blamed on a climate of racism.
Many street traders operate in the popular tourist city
An Italian author shot dead two African street traders before reportedly turning the gun on himself in Florence on Tuesday in an apparent racist attack.
Witnesses said the gunman - identified as 50-year-old far-right author Gianluca Casseri - had got out of his car in a square north of the city center and fired three shots at street vendors. Two of the victims, both Senegalese, died instantly with the other seriously wounded.
Casseri then moved on to the city's San Lorenzo market - a popular tourist destination - where he wounded two more vendors before apparently shooting himself in an underground parking lot.
"The hypothesis is that he committed suicide when he saw that the police were intervening," Florence prosecutor Giuseppe Quattrocchi was quoted as saying by the Italian news agency, ANSA. Police were reported to have fired at Casseri, but missed.
Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi declared in a Twitter message that the city would hold a day of mourning on Wednesday.
"The heart of Florence is crying today," said Renzi. "I think that the pain for the lives that have been cut short is not only for the Senegalese community but for all the citizens of our city."
Racial tensions in recent years have led to violent confrontations in Italy
The killings were also condemned by the former leader of Italy's center-left Democratic Party, Walter Veltroni, who denounced the attack as "pure barbarism" fostered in "the climate of intolerance towards foreigners which has been created in recent years."
Rising racial tensions
Tensions between some Italians communities and African immigrants have heightened in recent years, even leading to race riots. Concerns were expressed by Rome earlier this year about a sharp increase in the number of immigrants from North Africa in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Following news of the shootings, Senegalese migrants staged an impromptu protest march against racism through the city.
African street traders are often seen in the streets of Italy's main cities, selling sculptures, trinkets and fake designer handbags.
Officials said late on Tuesday that the injured men, aged in their thirties and forties, remained in a serious condition with one likely to be paralyzed for life.
Casseri was the author of fantasy novels and was the editor of a niche magazine about fantasy and horror fiction and comics.
Author: Richard Connor (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: John Doyle