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ITALY’S Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was in hot water today after a social media attack on Riace mayor Domenico Lucano backfired.
Mr Lucano, whose project welcoming refugees to the Calabrian town to revive its economy has made him famous throughout Italy, was arrested last week on charges of aiding illegal migration.
His arrest prompted a demonstration by thousands in his defence at the weekend, but the interior minister hit back with a Facebook video purporting to show what “ordinary” citizens of Riace thought of their mayor.
The video shows a man railing at Mr Lucano for squandering the municipality’s resources on helping refugees and having “abandoned” local families — but Italian journalists were quick to spot that the presumed ordinary citizen was in fact an underworld crime boss.
Journalist Giulio Cavalli pointed out that it was Pietro Domenico Zucco, who was arrested in 2011 as a figurehead of the ’ndrangheta working for the Ruga-Metastasio clan.
The ’ndrangheta is Calabria’s equivalent to the more famous mafia of Sicily. Europol assesses the organisation as “among the richest and most powerful organised crime groups at a global level” and a US assessment from 2010 concluded its drug-trafficking, extortion and money-laundering activities accounted for 3 per cent of Italian GDP.
The gaffe is likely to embolden defenders of Mr Lucano, whose refugee-welcoming programme involved contacting absentee owners of properties in the village of Riace — which, like many in rural Italy, was struggling as young people have emigrated due to the country’s lack of jobs and investment — and getting their permission to house refugees in them and train them to carry out needed work in the area. It began in 1998, when 200 Kurds arrived on a nearby beach and were welcomed by locals.
Saturday’s huge demonstration was led by refugees who live and work in Riace but was bolstered by supporters from across Italy.
Mr Salvini has pledged to prevent refugees from landing in Italy and vowed to deport half a million people.
Arresting Mr Lucano is one of a number of signals of his determination to push Italy to the right, which have included refusing to allow refugees’ rescue boats to dock in Italy; refusing to condemn the murder of Calabrian trade unionist Soumaila Sacko, who was working to improve conditions for African day labourers; and ordering his ministry to produce a register of the country’s Roma population with an eye to deporting as many as possible.
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