10 FEBRUARY 2018 • 1:52PM
Dressed in black bomber jackets and black T-shirts, the fascists surged into a main piazza ringed by colonnaded palazzos and pavement cafes. Confronting them were dozens of riot police armed with batons and shields.
Scuffles broke out as the modern-day Italian Blackshirts, from a far-Right party called Forza Nuova (New Force), tried to push their way further into the town. But the police forced them back, shoving them with their shields as the demonstrators chanted slogans from the time of Mussolini and gave stiff-armed salutes.
The confrontation happened in Macerata, a quiet provincial town tucked away in the hills of the eastern Marche region, touted by property agents and travel supplements as the new Tuscany.
Overlooked by the snow-capped Apennines and surrounded by rolling countryside, it rarely intrudes into the minds of Italians – until last weekend, when a 28-year-old Italian man went on the rampage. Luca Traini allegedly used a Glock pistol to randomly target African migrants living in the town, shooting six of them before surrendering himself to police beneath a fascist-era war memorial.
The shooting spree was reportedly in revenge for the death a few days before of an 18-year-old white girl whose body was cut up and stuffed into two suitcases, allegedly by a 28-year-old Nigerian drug dealer named Innocent Oseghale.
Luca Traini has been arrested following the drive-by shooting in Macerata CREDIT: HO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Police are investigating the possible involvement of four other Nigerian migrants, amid reports that the teenager was dismembered with clinical precision and her body scrubbed down with bleach in an apparent attempt to remove any evidence.
The gruesome death – coroners are trying to establish whether Pamela Mastropietro was murdered or died of a heroin overdose - convulsed the whole country. And it has pushed Macerata, an attractive university town built of soft-coloured brick, to the forefront of Italy’s election campaign as the country heads to a vote on March 4.
The days of bloodshed have crystallised fears of, on the one hand, the half a million migrants and refugees that Italy is struggling to deal with, and, on the other, the rise of the Right, in a country where the ghosts of fascism and Benito Mussolini still lurk in the shadows.
“We don’t condone what Traini did but he should not be turned into a monster,” said Roberto Fiore, the leader of Forza Nuova, as his fascist supporters clashed with police in the melee on Thursday night. “There was a reason he did what he did – he was reacting to a tribal, barbaric murder. He too is a victim of this uncontrolled migration.”
With punches and kicks being exchanged between the police and extremists, Eugenia Battisti, the head of another fascist group called the Fiamme Nere or Black Flames, said: “The murder was the work of the drug-dealing Nigerian mafia. I have a 20-year-old daughter and I’m afraid to let her go out at night.”
Roberto Fiore, leader of far-right group Forza Nuova, at an unauthorised demonstration on February 8 in Macerata CREDIT: TIZIANA FABI
While the centre-Left government and the Catholic Church expressed horror over the shootings, the anti-immigration League (formerly the Northern League) has seen a rise in support, admittedly by a modest half a point.
Traini, who had an Italian flag draped around his shoulders when he was arrested, was cheered by inmates in the prison where he is being held.
He was described by one government minister as “a fascist who besmirched the tricolore flag,” but he has become a martyr just not for the far-Right, but for some ordinary Italians who sympathise with the anger that drove him to carry out the drive-by shootings.
“For many people, he’s a hero,” said La Stampa, a national newspaper. “Traini has become a star in jail, a criminal celebrity,” reported La Repubblica daily.
Ordinary Italians, as well as neo-fascist groups, have offered to pay the legal expenses of Traini, who has a Celtic rune tattooed on his forehead and a history of association with far-Right parties, including the League, which now has a decent chance of being part of Italy’s next government.
In Rome, a group of men in black balaclavas unfurled a huge banner which read “Honour to Luca Traini” in a part of the city, Ponte Milvio, which has long had pro-Fascist leanings. Other parties were quick to sniff the national mood – the Five Star Movement, which is Italy’s most popular party with about 28 per cent of the vote – was markedly slow to condemn the shootings.
A week after the shootings, tensions are still running high in Macerata. The town is no hotbed of Right-wing sentiment. It has a strong Left-wing tradition and its mayor comes from the centre-Left Democratic Party, which governs at the national level under Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
But even here there is profound unease with the large number of migrants who have been billeted in and around the town as they await their asylum applications to be heard.
“People are exasperated and it’s striking that there has not been an outright condemnation of the shootings,” said Cristina Ricci, as she played with her 20-month-old daughter in a local park, the Diaz Gardens, which by night is the haunt of Nigerian drug dealers.
“The government has let in all these migrants and that creates delinquency. It is not an issue of race, it’s a social issue. I think the politicians made a big mistake.”
Traditionally a supporter of the Left, Ms Ricci said she had lost confidence in the ruling Democratic Party but was also disappointed by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. “I’m confused. I don’t know who to vote for,” she said.
In a piazza surrounded by medieval churches and shuttered palazzos, Francesco Baldi was just opening up his delicatessen for the day.
“Look at the piazza – normally it would be packed but now it’s deserted. Since the shootings, people are afraid to go out. There are many, many migrants in the town and there’s nothing for them to do. There’s no work for Italians, let alone foreigners,” he said.
It is not only the locals who are shaken and scared. Migrants say they too are fearful to walk around the town, feeling that they have all been branded as potential drug pushers and murderers.
“Before the shootings, there was no problem. But we’re scared now. When you get on the bus, people stare and point at you,” said Dauda Collins, 23, from Liberia, who arrived in Italy nearly three years ago and is still waiting to hear if he will be granted asylum.
The Piazza della Vittoria, where Luca Traini gave himself up to the authorities CREDIT: CHRIS WARDE-JONES
A Muslim convert, he said he left Monrovia because his Christian family objected to his change of religion. Like all the migrants, he crossed the Sahara to Libya and took a smugglers’ boat across the Mediterranean. He has no intention of going home, even if his asylum bid is turned down by the Italian government.
He will simply disappear, finding work in the black economy or moving north to France or Germany.
The Sunday Telegraph met two migrants who were friends with Innocent Oseghale, the man accused of killing the teenage girl. “I knew Innocent well. I didn’t believe he would kill even a chicken,” said Sparo, a 22-year-old mechanic from Ghana. “What happened was a very big surprise to me.”
While some migrants are given temporary housing by the council, as in towns and villages across Italy, others are not so lucky. Sparo sleeps in a concrete stairwell in an underground carpark on the edge of Macerata’s historic centre. Each morning he carefully rolls up his duvet, puts it in a plastic bag to stay dry and hides it behind an abandoned hut in a patch of scrub.
If the police find migrants’ blankets and sleeping bags, they burn them, he said. The desperate plight of migrants like Sparo, and the increasing resentment of many Italians, is a toxic and dangerous combination.
Italy won international praise for investing money and manpower to rescue so many migrants at sea, but it is now left with the seemingly insuperable problem of what to do with them.
They have been dumped on cities, towns and villages with no jobs, no future and no hope. It is a recipe for tension and is fuelling a furious blame game between the centre-Left government and its centre-Right challengers.
“It’s the Left that has blood on its hands,” said Matteo Salvini, the head of the Northern League, who wants to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants. “It was the Left that filled Italy with half a million foreigners, most of whom have nothing to do.”
The government says the death of Ms Mastropietro was a ghastly but isolated one-off and should not be used to whip up hatred of migrants. The inflammatory rhetoric used by the League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party was deeply irresponsible, said Andrea Orlando, the justice minister.
“Giving justification to criminal or terrorist behaviour … is an enormous risk,” he said. While polls suggest the Five Star Movement will be the single most popular party, it is likely to be trumped by a centre-Right alliance which consists of the League, Forza Italia and a far-Right party called Brothers of Italy.
If they can win 40 per cent of the vote, they will form a government. If, as the polls suggest, they garner only 35-37 per cent of the vote, they will have to do a deal with a rival political force, a complex process that could take weeks – or might fail altogether.
The situation remains highly fluid, given that around a third of Italians say they are unsure how they will vote, or whether they will vote at all. Meanwhile the people of Macerata attempt to heal the wounds of a tumultuous week.
“It’s been really tough – things like this have never happened in the town,” said Mauro, a 53-year-old tobacconist. “Twenty years ago, people would leave their keys in their front doors. Not anymore.”
"More than 30 years after the last Irish case of polio was recorded, the health service is treating a new wave of patients struggling with the complications of the disease.
Up to three new patients a month are presenting with post-polio syndrome at Beaumont Hospital, most of them drawn from among the “new Irish” communities.
Consultant neurologist Prof Orla Hardiman says about 70 per cent of the new patients at her post-polio clinic were born outside Ireland.
“The polio epidemic finished in the 1950s, and there were a few people in the 1960s who had polio. But we’re seeing a new wave of people now, a lot of Nigerians, Indians, people from Asia who would have had polio in childhood, are here now and they need some support.”"
No wonder so many diseases and illness are popping back up.
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At his sentence hearing today, the court heard the man, an illegal immigrant, has a previous conviction for masturbating in public in 2013. He exposed himself in front of two women in Harcourt Street in Dublin, Garda Sylvia Ryan said.
The court heard that a deportation order is in place, which he is appealing.
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