Garbage Crisis in Naples Provokes Protests

Stinking mounds of garbage accumulated in the streets of Naples on Friday and officials around the country blamed organized crime and a disorganized bureaucracy for the city's lengthening refuse crisis.

Effigies of city officials, suspended from lampposts and trees on Friday, reflected the fury of Naples' citizens, who have had to live up close to their garbage since Dec. 21, when collectors stopped gathering it because there was nowhere to take it.

Residents have resorted to setting trash on fire, raising fears of toxic smoke.

Four empty buses were set afire overnight in the Pianura neighborhood in Naples' outskirts, where work has begun to reopen a long-closed dump, fire officials said. On Thursday, angry residents blocked a street to protest the reopening of the site.

Naples and other parts of the southern Campania region have been plagued by a series of garbage crises for more than a decade. Dumps fill up and local communities block efforts to build new ones or create temporary storage sites. In 2004, a garbage crisis prompted weeks of protests.

On Friday, about 100 young protesters marched on City Hall; some occupied a central balcony and the roof, where they hung banners protesting the dump reopening and demanding a full-fledged plan to improve recycling in the area, the ANSA and Apcom news agencies reported.

"They (the authorities) are asking citizens to respect the law, they set three lines of police roadblocks thinking that they are facing criminals; instead they (the demonstrators) are citizens who are only asking for their basic rights," said Nello Zaccaria, Naples' environmental protection representative.

Local, regional and national officials handed out blame for the southern city's recurring inability to properly dispose of its trash.

Several lawmakers said the government's creation in 1994 of a special office of trash commissioner to deal with Naples' continuing garbage crisis was part of the problem.

Leading Italian daily Corriere della Sera ran a lengthy investigation Friday detailing recent findings by a parliamentary committee that allege

corruption and inefficiency in the commissioner's office.

Environment Minister Antonio Pecoraro Scanio, who has been a harsh critic of the commissioner's office, also blamed what he called the "ecomafia," a reference to Naples' organized crime syndicate, the Camorra, and its hold on garbage collection.

In an interview with the free daily E Polis, Pecoraro Scanio said the only way to escape the mob's hold on Naples' garbage was to get more Neapolitans to recycle and to build technologically advanced plants to dispose of the garbage in an environmentally friendly way.

Pecoraro Scanio said the Camorra was taking advantage of the fires set by residents to get rid of toxic waste.

"The ecomafias are behind the fires that are burning Naples and that are set to burn the accumulated trash," he said. "In the chaos that is created, the Camorra is always the victor."

The effigies hanging on Friday carried banners with slogans critical of Antonio Bassolino, the governor of Campania, and the city's Mayor Rosa Russo Iervolino, the Apcom news agency reported. There have been calls for days for Bassolino to resign.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi chimed in, calling for "unity" in the political class and warning that such finger-pointing was making residents have even less faith in the government's ability to deal with the crisis.