Italy Government Tries to End Anti-Train Protests
The protests developed into a national row this week after dozens were hurt in clashes between demonstrators and police in Val di Susa, near Turin, raising fears that prolonged trouble would spoil the 2006 Winter Olympics which the city is hosting.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's top aide, ministers and leaders of the Alpine valley communities agreed at emergency talks in Rome on Saturday on the need to restore calm in the area and strengthen consultations between the two sides, a government statement said.
It said drilling of a tunnel under the Alps for the high-speed train, which protesters fear could release dangerous asbestos and uranium, would not start until the environmental study was completed. A government press officer said that did not mean the works would be suspended or delayed, however.
Protesters said the government proposal might not be enough to stop their demonstrations.
"The government has paved the way for dialogue but maintains the project is indispensable and on that we don't agree," Antonio Ferrentino, president of the lower Val di Susa mountain community, told Reuters after the meeting.
"The environment study is an opening on their part, but overall we are not very satisfied."
He said demonstrators and mayors of the affected Piedmont region would meet on Sunday to discuss whether to go ahead with a planned Dec. 17 protest in the centre of Turin, which will host the Winter Games from Feb. 10-26.
The Val di Susa lies on the French-Italian border north of Turin and connects the city with mountain resorts which will be used for the Games.
All mainstream parties support the TAV high-speed train project, saying it will tie Italy into an important rail network that stretches from Spain to eastern Europe.
But this week's clashes have pitted the government, which has blamed extreme left-wing groups for the violence, against the centre-left opposition.
"The TAV must go ahead," Foreign Affairs Minister Gianfranco Fini told Libero newspaper in an interview on Saturday, adding that dialogue was needed to address local concerns about health and the environment.