Tag Archives: ROME

Pope signs up for World Youth Day using iPad

Pope Francis, accompanied by two Polish youths, uses an iPad to register online for the next 2016 World Youth Day in Poland during the Angelus prayer at the Vatican on July 26, 2015
Pope Francis, accompanied by two Polish youths, uses an iPad to register online for the next 2016 World Youth Day in Poland during the Angelus prayer at the Vatican on July 26, 2015

Vatican City (AFP) – Pope Francis on Sunday became the first person registered for next year’s World Youth Day festivities, using an iPad to sign up while addressing thousands of pilgrims and tourists in Saint Peter’s Square.

“Thanks to this electronic device, I signed up as a simple pilgrim,” Francis said, declaring himself the first person registered for next edition of the Youth Day celebration while flanked by two Polish youths.

Continue reading Pope signs up for World Youth Day using iPad

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Go Inside Mussolini’s Secret Bunker That Hasn’t Been Seen In 70 Years

Mussolini Bunker1

To mark the 70th anniversary of its liberation from fascism, Rome has reopened one of the bunkers built for Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. 

A series of bunkers were built under the Italian capital during World War II to provide shelter for bureaucrats and party leaders.

Bunker di Roma, a local website, has cataloged up to 12 different bunkers beneath the city and campaigned for their refurbishment so that tourists can visit them. 

Many of the bunkers, including Mussolini’s personal air raid shelter, have not been entered since the end of the war, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Mussolini was leader of the Italian fascist movement from 1923 to 1943. 

The bunker is located below Villa Torlonia, the Roman residence of Mussolini since 1922. It’s just a short walk from the Colosseum.

The bunker is located below Villa Torlonia, the Roman residence of Mussolini since 1922. It's just a short walk from the Colosseum.

The shelter could house up to 15 people in case of intense bombardment. It was never used, as Mussolini was ousted by his own private council on Sept. 8, 1943.

The shelter could house up to 15 people in case of intense bombardment. It was never used, as Mussolini was ousted by his own private council on Sept. 8, 1943.

The bunker was outfitted with the most cutting-edge technologies of the time. It was designed to protect against a gas attack, as the sign in this picture says.

The bunker was outfitted with the most cutting-edge technologies of the time. It was designed to protect against a gas attack, as the sign in this picture says.

Communication with the outside was guaranteed through a safe telephone line. Two more bunkers were built in the same area for other officials.

Communication with the outside was guaranteed through a safe telephone line. Two more bunkers were built in the same area for other officials.

The bunker was transformed from a wine cellar. Corriere della Sera wrote that Mussolini complained that the bunker was not ready by the time his regime fell.

The bunker was transformed from a wine cellar. Corriere della Sera wrote that Mussolini complained that the bunker was not ready by the time his regime fell.

The mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, has praised the initiative as one more way to understand the city’s history.

The mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, has praised the initiative as one more way to understand the city's history.

Italian mob has €200bn annual budget

BRUSSELS – The Italian mob’s annual budget is bigger than that of the EU, with most of the money spent outside Italy, the country’s foreign ministry says. Rome: The Italian mob is said to have a €200bn annual budget

“Organised crime has an annual budget of more than €200 billion,” said Giovanni Brauzzi, security policy director at the Italian ministry of foreign affairs, on Tuesday (25 March).

“They invest only 10 percent of this budget in Italy, the rest they invest in countries in Europe and elsewhere. They have good friends everywhere,” he added.

The EU’s annual budget for 2014 in comparison is around €140 billion.

There are conflicting estimates on the scale of Italian organised crime.

A study out last year by the Italian-based Transcrime joint research centre said Italy’s mobs take in just €10.5 billion per year.

Another study, released in 2012 by Confesercenti, a employers’ association, put the annual turnover figure at €140 billon.

Brauzzi, who was speaking at the Second Annual European Cyber Security Conference in Brussels, said the mob also works with the Italian legal system to crack down on minor cyber threats on the internet in a mutually beneficial relationship.

“They produce evidence for the legal system in order find these groups, in order to stop those activities and to keep going ‘as business as usual’ in order then to have their own activities protected,” he said.

Top lawyers and managers are on their payroll, he said.

He noted that over the past few years, Italy’s organised crime syndicates have shifted their “investments” outside Italy.

Brauzzi said Italy’s organised crime is deeply embedded in “the most important companies working in financial transactions.”

“Corruption is the easiest way of doing busy in their framework,” he noted.

A European Commission anti-corruption report published in February found that almost half the businesses in Italy see corruption as a “very serious or quite serious problem.”

Italy’s President Just Gave Unprecedented Testimony In A Major Mafia Trial

Swiss President and Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter (R) and Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano wave to spectators during a state visit in Bern May 20, 2014. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano gave unprecedented testimony on Tuesday in a major trial that accuses the state of holding secret talks with the Sicilian Mafia in the 1990s.

Palermo prosecutors seeking to shed light on a murky period when the mob targeted the state with assassinations and bombings questioned a sitting head of state in a mafia trial for the first time in the country’s history.

Among the 10 defendants are Nicola Mancino, who was interior minister at the time, and Salvatore Riina, once Italy’s most powerful mob boss.

Italian special police escort one of Italy's most wanted bosses  Pasquale Condello (2nd L) following his arrest on February 2008

The 89-year-old Napolitano is not accused of any crime and was called as a witness who may have knowledge useful to the trial, but the hearing may tarnish the image of a president who has done much to guide Italy through political and economic turmoil in recent years.

Most Italian presidents have been little more than ribbon-cutters and authors of patriotic speeches in the past, but Napolitano has stepped in three times in as many years to break political deadlock and seat governments amid economic crisis.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano (August 2014)

Prosecutors allege senior politicians and police, hoping to stem mounting violence, held talks with mob bosses after anti-mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone, his wife and three bodyguards were killed by a mafia bomb planted under a road in 1992.

The state’s willingness to enter into talks after Falcone’s murder actually encouraged further bombings, the prosecutors say, including the one that killed another anti-mafia magistrate, Paolo Borsellino, two months later.

At the time of the bombings, Napolitano was president of Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of parliament. He became Italy’s president in 2006.

Prosecutors want to ask the head of state about a 2012 letter to him from his legal adviser Loris D’Ambrosio that implied Napolitano had known about the talks.

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

The media were not allowed to cover the proceedings, sparking protests from Italian journalists, and those present at the closed-door hearing were not allowed to record it.

About 40 people – including prosecutors, judges and defense lawyers – attended the hearing in a large hall in the president’s 16th century Quirinale Palace in central Rome.

Riina’s lawyer has said he wants to question the president, but it is not clear whether the court will allow this. Riina is serving life in prison for ordering multiple homicides, including those of Falcone and Borsellino.

Napolitano has previously provided written testimony but declined to speak before the court when prosecutors made an initial request in October of last year. He agreed to the hearing last month after a court ruled his testimony was “neither superfluous nor irrelevant”.

Mancino is being tried for giving false testimony, while another nine defendants, including three senior paramilitary Carabiniere officers, face charges they sought to blackmail the state. All deny wrongdoing.

Napolitano was linked to the case when prosecutors tapped Mancino’s phone and recorded four calls he made to the president. In portions of the wiretaps published by newspapers, Mancino complained about the prosecutors and appeared to be asking the president for help.

Italian media reported last year that the recordings had been destroyed, as had been ordered by the constitutional court.

But prosecutors have said they want to question the president about Mancino’s conversations with D’Ambrosio, who has since died, and not about his own conversations with the former minister.

French Police Found 9 Pounds Of Cocaine In A Vatican Car

Pope Francis

Pope Francis blesses the faithful from the backseat of his car as he leaves the Quirinale Presidential palace.

Police in France find cocaine and marijuana in a vehicle with Holy See diplomatic plates belonging to Cardinal Jorge Maria Mejia

Pope Francis may have often spoken out against the “evil” of drug use, but the Vatican was facing embarrassment on Tuesday after 9lb of cocaine was found in a car bearing diplomatic plates associated with the Holy See.

The car, which was stopped and searched in France, belonged to Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Maria Mejia, who had entrusted it to two Italian men.

Aged 91, the cardinal retired in 2003 and holds the title of emeritus librarian at the Holy See.

The two men, aged 30 and 41, had reportedly been told by his private secretary to take the car for a routine service.

Instead they promptly drove to Spain, where they allegedly bought the cocaine and from there drove into France. They reportedly believed that the car’s diplomatic status would place them above suspicion.

But on Sunday they were stopped at a toll station near Chambery in the French Alps, en route back to Italy, where police found the cocaine hidden in suitcases and bags, along with seven ounces of cannabis.

They were arrested and will appear in front of a French magistrate on charges of drug trafficking.

The Vatican confirmed the report, but said that as both men were Italian rather than citizens of the Vatican City State, it had nothing to do with the Holy See.

Cardinal Mejia is not well and obviously has nothing to do with this,” said Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. “It’s now up to the police to pursue their investigations.”

Pope Francis has often warned of the dangers of taking drugs, most recently in June when he called addiction an “evil”.

He is firmly opposed to the legalisation of any drugs, despite moves in many countries in the West, including several states in the US, to allow the personal consumption of soft drugs such as marijuana.

“I would reaffirm what I have stated on another occasion: no to every type of drug use. It is as simple as that,” he told a drug enforcement conference in Rome.

Drug trafficking “continues to spread inexorably,” he said, adding it was fuelled by “a deplorable commerce which transcends national borders.”

Former Berlusconi secretary arrested with 24 kg of cocaine

Federica Gagliardi, la 'dama bianca', fermata a Fiumicino con 24 chili di cocaina

(Reuters) – Italian police on Thursday arrested Federica Gagliardi, a woman who acted as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s secretary at two international summits in Canada in 2010, on suspicion of smuggling 24 kg of cocaine on a flight from Venezuela.

Gagliardi, who is in her early 30s, was taken into custody at Rome’s Fiumicino airport shortly after arriving on a flight from Caracas after police found the drugs in her carry-on luggage, a finance police spokesman said.

Officials provided no further details, but according to Italy’s anti-drug police estimates the local street value of 24 kg of pure cocaine, after it is cut with other substances to be sold on, would be about 6.7 million euros ($13.21 million).

The police did not say whether they found pure cocaine.

The Italian media dubbed Gagliardi the “white lady”, splashing her picture on the front pages and describing her as Berlusconi’s mystery companion when she stepped off the plane in Toronto in June 2010, previously unknown, dressed in a white linen blouse and trousers.

In response to questions about her role, Berlusconi’s office said she was acting as his secretary on the trip. She said she had met Berlusconi while campaigning for a member of his party.

After a few weeks, she dropped out of the media spotlight, but her LinkedIn page says she remained a regional government secretary in Rome until last year. ($1 = 0.7192 euros)

Italy’s strict drug law goes up in smoke

Italian protester against marijuana law

A court ruling ended harsh sanctions on marijuana users, but prospects for legalisation seem unlikely.

Rome, Italy  Wearing marijuana leaf-masks and dancing in front of sound systems blasting reggae music, thousands of pro-legalisation activists gathered in Rome on February 8, hailing the decision of Italy’s Constitutional Court to examine a law that harshly punished marijuana possessors and users.”I was caught with ten grams the day before this law was enacted” in 2006, said Melania, a 30-year-old student and soon-to-be-mother. “With this legislation I would have risked an arrest.”

On February 12, the Constitutional Court ruled that the Fini-Giovanardi, a law setting out penalties related to the sale and possession of illegal drugs, was improperly approved, and abrogated the law. Since then, Italy has returned to previous regulations that imposed lighter sanctions on cannabis users.

The complaint against the Fini-Giovanardi was initially made by MP Luigi Saraceni in June 2012, and then brought to the Constitutional Court by the Court of Cassation. The Fini-Giovanardi, supported by the right-wing government of Silvio Berlusconi, became law in January 2006.

Marijuana = heroin?

From the beginning, the law was criticised for equating “soft” drugs, such as cannabis, with hard ones, such as heroin or cocaine. Illicit substances were divided into two categories, and the quantity seized by police became one of the criteria to separate consumers from dealers.

“If the threshold is 500 mg of active ingredient, and considering the average concentration that we can find in cannabis sold on the streets, the frontier [dividing users from dealers] is set at only five grams, for a value of about 50 euros [$68],” said Riccardo De Facci, president of the National Organisation of Rehabilitation Communities.

However, Senator Carlo Giovanardi, one of the law’s co-authors, believes that risks connected with cannabis should be seriously taken into account by the legislature. “In the scientific literature there are no light drugs,” he told Al Jazeera. “There is only one UN chart, and only one European chart, and cannabis has always been the front-door entrance to cocaine or heroin.”

Prison overcrowding

For their part, prisoners’ rights organisations argued that harsh drug laws have created a booming prison population in a system that is already overcrowded. Since January 2013, Italy’s prisons have been under the scrutiny of the European Court of Human Rights.

There are about 9,000 people who risk six to 20 years in jail, arrested mainly because they were big cannabis consumers.- Riccardo De Facci, president of the National Organisation of Rehabilitation Communities

As of last January, Italy’s prisons held 61,449 detainees, despite a maximum capacity of 47,711, according to the Ministry of Justice. Prisoners’ organisation Antigone reported that 38.4 percent of convictions in 2012 were due to violations of Clause 73 of the Fini-Giovanardi, which punishes drug producers and traffickers. Of those convicted, 6,136 violations were related to major trafficking, while 19,891 were related to possession or dealing.

De Facci said he deals every day with consumers whose only mistake was being caught with quantities of marijuana above the limit separating users from dealers. “There are about 9,000 people who risk six to 20 years in jail, arrested mainly because they were big cannabis consumers – maybe producers with just three plants – but they were treated as dealers.”

Many cannabis smokers refuse to give up their habits, and are arrested several times for the same crime. Solicitor Lorenzo Simonetti said he has received an average of three new cases every week. “If you are arrested for a second time, you go straight to jail, no matter what happened with the first verdict,” he told Al Jazeera.

However, Senator Giovanardi refuted these accusations. “With our law, prison is envisaged only for dealers, because the consumer is considered a patient. In jail there are only burglars, robbers, pickpockets, people who assaulted, robbed, and trafficked.”

A new approach?

According to the Anti-drugs Policy Department’s 2013 report to the Italian Parliament, there are an estimated 2.3 million drug consumers in Italy, and a declining number of marijuana users. In 2012, 4.01 percent said they smoked cannabis, 1.32 percentage points lower than in 2010.

But the statistics vary. For instance, the Institute of Clinical Physiology of the Centre for National Research found in its 2011 Population Survey on Drug Use that 8.7 percent of Italians had used marijuana in the past 12 months.

Meanwhile, the pro-legalisation protesters were not satisfied with the court’s ruling. “We ask for a new political opening; we won’t come back to the previous legislation only,” said Alessandro “Mephisto” Buccolieri, a spokesperson for the demonstration.

There are currently at least two cannabis-related bills waiting to be discussed in Italy’s parliament: One that would allow for personal cultivation of marijuana plants, and another that would allow the medical use of cannabis.

But with the idea of legislation remaining a prickly topic for Italy’s major political parties, the likelihood of either bill passing is low.

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