Italy's Premier Denounces Graffiti

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 11, 2006; 9:35 PM

ROME -- Premier Romano Prodi on Tuesday denounced a swastika and other graffiti scrawled on doors and walls in a Jewish neighborhood of Rome overnight, when soccer fans thronged the streets to celebrate Italy's World Cup triumph.

Some of the graffiti was painted on a door along a wall near outdoor tables of a trattoria along the main street of the Old Ghetto, as the neighborhood is known. Graffiti was also spray-painted on a motorscooter saddle and on name plates and intercoms on apartment building doors.

Prodi condemned the anti-Semitic graffiti in a letter to the president of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities. He expressed his government's solidarity with the Jewish community and denounced the "ignoble gesture of hate and intolerance which strikes not only you, but all the Italian people."

"I reiterate with force and indignation these words: Similar gestures will not be underestimated and will not be tolerated," said Prodi, who leads a center-left government.

The neighborhood, where many in Rome's small Jewish community live or work, is a few minutes' walk from Circus Maximus, the ancient Roman entertainment area where more than 600,000 fans held a jubilant rally for the players of the national team, which won the World Cup on Sunday. The Monday night festivities lasted into the early hours of Tuesday.

Police inspected the graffiti later in the day and prosecutors opened an investigation.

Swastikas and extremist soccer fans have occasionally mixed in Italy. Fans for one of Rome's teams, Lazio, waved swastika flags this past season at a game where rival club supporters held red Communist flags.

Also expressing indignation over the graffiti was Italy's head of state, President Giorgio Napolitano. The president called for "mobilization against any resurgence of anti-Semitism and racism" in Italy, which is predominantly Catholic.

Interior Minister Giuliano Amato, whose ministry includes state police forces, visited Rome's main synagogue as a sign of solidarity and denounced those who drew the swastika as "imbeciles." "I'm ashamed as an Italian that as an interior minister I have to deal with this," Amato told reporters.

Rome's chief rabbi, Riccardo Di Segni, said "the guard must not be lowered" in the fight against anti-Semitism.

© 2006 The Associated Press