From: Reuters
Published January 8, 2008 12:12 PM

Italy's PM orders "trash tsar" to end crisis

By Robin Pomeroy

NAPLES (Reuters) - Prime Minister Romano Prodi gave Italy's former police chief four months to clean up a garbage crisis in Naples where tons of rotting rubbish sparked clashes between police and residents on Tuesday.

A neighborhood on the outskirts of Italy's third largest city has been sealed off since Saturday by protesters trying to stop truckloads of garbage being brought in for dumping. Police fired tear gas overnight to disperse protesters.

Refuse collection in Naples and the surrounding Campania region stopped around Christmas when almost every dump was declared full. As a result, 110,000 tons of garbage has piled up in the streets.

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The government tried to reopen a landfill in the Pianura suburb that closed 11 years ago. Locals say the dump is unsafe and have used metal fences, concrete blocks and trees to block access to the dump.

On Tuesday, Prodi named Gianni De Gennaro as the new "trash tsar" and told him to sort out a problem which has been brewing for decades.

Prodi said he would continue to use the military to help solve the crisis. The army has already cleared some rubbish so Naples schools could reopen.

Three incinerators and a "sufficient number of landfills" would also be opened in the southern region, Prodi said, without giving a timeframe.

Councils have four months to come up with a plan to comply with long-ignored rules for recycling garbage or face special administration by the government, Prodi said.

MAFIA INVOLVEMENT

The Camorra -- the Naples version of Sicily's Mafia -- is heavily involved in the transport and disposal of waste.

Along with political ineffectiveness and corruption, this has meant Naples has failed to get to grips with a problem that was first recognized as constituting an emergency 14 years ago.

De Gennaro is the seventh person to be appointed to deal with the waste problem. Despite having sweeping powers, none of his predecessors have had much impact.

Environment Minister Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, the head of the Green Party and a natural ally of the protesters, has said the people of Pianura will have to accept their waste dump must reopen, at least temporarily.

The site is now overgrown with grass and scrubby vegetation. Locals say it is the source of ground and air pollution and feel betrayed by politicians who promised to clean up the site and even create a golf course there.

"I see the big country houses don't have a single rubbish bag outside them while we have to live in this total s***," said Angelo Lanzano, a 56-year-old resident.

While daytime protests have been peaceful and have included local women and children, the atmosphere at night has turned ugly and several TV reporters have been attacked by youths.

Illegal waste dumping and burning is blamed for poisoning the soil, water and air of large zones around the base of Mount Vesuvius. After years of delays, the first modern incinerator in the region was supposed to open at the end of 2007 but this may not happen until 2009.

(Additional reporting Laura Viggiano and Silvia Aloisi; editing by Robert Woodward)

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