Vicenza, Italy: Thousands protest Pentagon plans to double personnel & size of military base Print E-mail

 Pakistan -- Sunday, February 18, 2007, Muharam 29, 1428 A.H.

VICENZA - February 17: Italians hold a demonstration against the expansion of a United State military base on Saturday. Thousands of people flocked to this northeastern Italian city to protest the planned expansion that has strained relations within the governing centre-left coalition. The base was used by the US air force for operations in Iraq during the 2003 invasion.­AP

Scroll down to view brilliant poster from Vicenza rally which reads:

"I have a dream
Bush in Orange
In Guantanamo Bay"

Italians protest against US base

VICENZA, Italy: Tens of thousands of Italians under heavy police guard protested on Saturday against the expansion of a US military base that has divided the centre-left government.

Leftists who last year voted for Prime Minister Romano Prodi, an Iraq war opponent, turned out in droves to decry his approval for US plans to expand the military base in the city of Vicenza, home to the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Pacifists waved rainbow-striped peace banners while some protesters carried anti-American slogans like “Yankees go Home”. “There is no reason to have this base here,” said Antonio Faitta, a 25-year-old gardener who travelled from Genoa.

Prodi appealed to demonstrators to refrain from violence, following warnings from the interior minister that the protest march which began shortly after 2 pm could attract people “hostile to the forces of law and order”.

The US embassy has warned Americans to steer clear of the small northern Italian city of 115,000, where officials also shut schools normally open on Saturday as a precaution. The demonstration has also served as a lightning rod for anti-US sentiment in a country where judges have ordered CIA agents and a US soldier to stand trial for kidnapping and murder.

A Milan judge charged the CIA agents on Friday with abducting a Muslim cleric in Milan in a covert operation and flying him to Egypt. The US soldier was charged on Feb 7 with murdering an Italian secret agent in Iraq, although both governments have described the 2005 shooting as an accident. All will almost certainly be tried in absentia, since Washington is not expected to hand them over.

“I don’t want any more Americans here and I don’t want a new base. They should just leave us alone,” said Pucci Mori, a resident of Vicenza, who lives near the proposed base expansion.

“Wherever they go in the world, Americans cause trouble.” The protest is the latest headache for Prodi, who has faced revolts by his broad leftist coalition partners on everything from gay rights to the budget and the presence of Italian peacekeepers in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon wants to double the size of the base to unities 173rd Airborne Brigade and expand its 2,750 military personnel to 4,500. At present, the rapid reaction unit is divided among the base at Vicenza, about 400km north of Rome, and bases at Bamburg and Schweinfurt in Germany. The new barracks would be on the other side of the city from the existing one.

That has raised worries about new roads to handle military traffic linking the two parts, loss of greenspace and strains on public services.


  e-Paper Monday February 19, page 13