giovedì 7 agosto 2014

Alitalia struggles to return thousands of bags after go-slow

Chaos follows airport baggage handlers' agitation over job cuts

(ANSA) - Rome, August 7 - Alitalia was struggling to return thousands of suitcases to passengers Thursday after a wildcat go-slow by baggage handlers' trade union members against planned job cuts plunged the national carrier's luggage service into chaos.

As many as 6,000 suitcases and bags were being returned to their owners from Wednesday including 4,000 aboard lorries delivering them to passengers around Italy and elsewhere in Europe, Alitalia sources said. A special task force of 200 people has been assigned by the Rome Airports Authority to help clear the backlog of luggage and parcels that passengers were unable to collect, or which were not loaded on relevant flights, because of the industrial agitation.

Thousands of parcels and bags were still awaiting collection in front of hangers as well as in the main baggage distribution halls. Other airlines have offered to help deal with the backlog by delivering luggage to other European countries when they have space in their holds. Meanwhile ground service problems continued to cause delays in Alitalia departures with more than 20 flights for Paris, Nice, Podgorica, Belgrade and Reggio Calabria leaving from 25 minutes to an hour late on Thursday morning. The president of Italy's strike guarantee authority, Roberto Alesse, wrote to Alitalia management Thursday saying that everything possible was being done to identify those responsible for the go-slow.

In Italy, disciplinary proceedings can be brought against public service workers who fail to warn of an imminent strike. Unions are concerned at the prospect of losing several hundred jobs under terms of a deal being finalised with Etihad Airways to re-capitalise beleaguered Alitalia. 

Draghi says 'low private investment' drag on Italy GDP

Successful structural reforms have made States 'much' stronger

(ANSA) - Rome, August 7 - A major contributing factor to Italy's weak gross domestic product (GDP) has been "the low level of private investment" in the country, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said Thursday. And much of that is due to investor "uncertainty about (Italy's) reforms, a very powerful brake that discourages investment," added Draghi. He spoke at a news conference one day after the latest GDP figures confirmed Italy is in its third recession in five years.

Statistical agency Istat said Italian GDP slipped by 0.2% in the second quarter after falling by 0.1% in the first three months of the year. Commenting indirectly on Italy's situation, Draghi said the countries which have successfully implemented structural reforms have tended to be stronger. "The countries that have convincing structural reform programs are doing better, much better, than those who have not done so or have done so inadequately," said Draghi.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi's government has been pressing several reform measures through parliament, including legal and spending reforms, institutional changes, and a new election law. Draghi urged eurozone countries to intensify efforts at making structural reforms, but said that at the same they must "not undo the progress made in fiscal consolidation," involving debt and deficit reduction. One of the downside risks to the European economy as a whole is insufficient efforts at implementing economic reforms, added Draghi. 

Additional bones found on Concordia wreck

Coroner examining skull found Wednesday

(ANSA) - Genoa, August 7 - Crews searching the wreck of the Costa Concordia for the remains of its 32nd victim on Thursday found additional bones that might be part of an arm, ANSA sources said. Authorities are looking for the body of Indian steward Russel Rebello, the only victim of the January 2012 disaster whose remains haven't yet been recovered. On Wednesday, crews found a human skull in the same area where the badly decomposed body of another victim, a woman, had previously been found.

Coroner Alessandro Bonsignore is trying to determine whether the skull is male or female, and those results are expected later on Thursday afternoon. Rebello is believed to have been the 32nd fatality among the passengers and crew of the vessel after it hit rocks off Giglio island on January 13, 2012. A Spanish diver died while working on the salvage operation in January, taking the Concordia's overall death toll to 33.

Russian food ban could cost Italy one bn euros, says farmers

Agricultural products comprise 10.3% of annual exports to Russia

(ANSA) - Rome, August 7 - Russia's decision to ban agriculture and food imports for one year from the EU, US, and some other Western countries could cost Italy more than 1 billion euros in lost exports, said Italian Farmers' Association CIA on Thursday. The ban was put into place as retaliation to sanctions imposed by Western countries over Russia's involvement in the crisis in Ukraine, and involves meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, and dairy products.

In Italy, the banned products make up 10.3% of total annual exports to Russia, representing a value of more than one billion euros of the 10.4 billion euros overall value of Italian exports to Russia in 2013. "Concern remains high overall for fresh fruit and vegetable exports, which, besides not receiving adequate support in response to the economic crisis, now risk even more damage as a result of the block by Russia," a CIA representative said.

The European Commission will take up the issue in talks on Friday between the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG AGRI) and COPA-COGECA, lobbying groups representing European farmers. CIA vice president Antonio Dosi will participate in the talks. 

Record ticket sales for Milan Expo 2015 Italy pavilion

Fair on course for success despite scandals, minister says

(ANSA) Rome, Aug.7 - Italy already has sold a record 2.5 million tickets for its pavilion at Milan Expo 2015 and demand remains high for pre-sales, Minister for agricultural food and forest policies Maurizio Martina said Thursday. "We have the absolute record of any pavilion" Martina told Skytg24 television, "not even Shanghai has had those numbers". "Italy has sold 2.5 million tickets, a record, and demand in pre-sales shows no falling-off," he said.

The sales are a sign that Expo will be a success despite the graft scandals that have blighted the extravaganza, she added. "We had some difficult periods on the legality front but we faced up to them in an adequate manner," she continued. "We will get there on Expo,we are working very hard on it," Martina concluded, "we will do it". 

Nigerian couple arrested for genitally mutilating daughters

Girls, aged four and 10, infibulated during trip to home country

(ANSA) - Perugia, August 7 - Police have arrested a Nigerian couple on charges of grave bodily harm for genitally mutilating their two daughters, who are aged four and 10, law enforcement sources said Thursday. The couple living in a village near the city of Perugia was reported by a public health doctor and by social services.

While the female genital mutilation (FGM) may have been carried out abroad, the parents are liable in Italy because both children were born and reside here, police said. The couple was placed under house arrest because the court considered them a flight risk, the sources said. In Italy, ritual female genital mutilation is punishable with four to 12 years in prison. Italy was the first western country to oppose FGM in the 1980s, and co-sponsored a 2012 UN resolution banning the practice, which affects 140 million children worldwide.

Monte Paschi di Siena bank posts losses of 353 million euros

Losses due to 'one off' factors, restructuring ahead of schedule

(ANSA) - Milan, August 7 - Beleaguered Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank on Thursday posted losses of 353 million euros for the first semester this year in a worse than expected result evidently due to bond interest and credit corrections.

"The net result discounts a series of non-recurring elements including the cost of Monti bonds and their relative excessive weight, in the absence of which the 'normalized' result would be close to breaking even," the bank said in a statement. The troubled bank, the world's oldest still in operation, was thrown into crisis in January 2013 when it emerged that a shady series of derivative and structured-finance deals produced losses of 720 million euros.

Late last year, the bank's board approved a restructuring plan for the troubled Tuscan lender that included some 8,000 job cuts and 500 branch closures by 2017. Also during the first semester, interest margins fell to 972 million, down by 10.4%, after the Monti bond reimbursement was revalued by 147 million euros. The intermediation margin also fell to 1.843 billion euros, down by 4.7% due to "non-recurring components," said the bank. The Cet wealth coefficent rose by 13.5% thanks to a massive capital increase of five billion euros.

The bank's shares portfolio improved, amounting to 34 billion euros, a fall of only 2.2 billion compared to the first trimester of 2014 and a drop of some 6.4 billion euros over 2013. The bank said it has already reached its cost reduction target planned for 2017, reaching a major labour accord Wednesday in which unions agreed to some 1,300 layoffs that brought forward the planned closure of 150 branches to the start of 2015. 

Alitalia-Etihad deal finalized, to be signed Friday

As airport ground crews continue labor action

(ANSA) - Rome, August 7 - The deal that will see Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways buy a 49% stake in Italian carrier Alitalia is closed and will be formally signed Friday afternoon, Transportation Minister Maurizio Lupi said Thursday.

He spoke at the end of meetings in Premier Matteo Renzi's office with Etihad CEO James Hogan and senior government officials. "Good work has been done," said Lupi, adding that final details will be worked out during the day ahead of Friday's formal sign-off on the deal that will see Etihad invest 560 million euros in Alitalia. "It's an injection of confidence for the country, after yesterday's data," he added, referring to statistics Wednesday that showed Italy has returned to recession, its third in five years. The imminent deal proves "there are those who still believe in our country," the minister said.

Final negotiations in recent days have aimed at settling outstanding issues, including an agreement from Italy's State postal company Poste Italiane - one of the airline's largest shareholders - to invest 75 million euros in Alitalia through a special entity. Poste Italiane, which is currently one of Alitalia's biggest stakeholders after it acquired over 19% of the airline as part of a government-orchestrated bailout last year, had previously balked at any further investments in the money-losing airline without guarantees that it would not be on the hook for Alitalia's enormous debts, estimated by some at more than 800 million euros. As well, Alitalia's board agreed to formally recommend shareholders approve a 300-million-euro capital increase to keep the airline alive until the Etihad deal is fully implemented.

Labour conditions have been a major stumbling block, as some unionized workers at Alitalia have balked at accepting Etihad's demands for some 2,000 job cuts and salary reductions even as the Italian government insisted throughout negotiations that the deal is essential to keeping Alitalia alive.

Most unions representing Alitalia workers have accepted Etihad's demands, and in some cases other positions have been offered to try to cushion the blow. But one union has called for a renegotiation of the pact, which also demands cuts to wages for Alitalia workers than remain after the Etihad deal.

Alitalia has said that all its unions must support the Etihad deal before it can be finalized. Later on Thursday, Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said the government will help 950 permanently laid-off Alitalia staff find other jobs. "They will have welfare, and they will be helped to locate other employment," Lupi said. "There will be plenty of job opportunities for everyone, either at Fiumicino or (Milan's) Malpensa airports". The job cuts have already been agreed upon by 80% of Alitalia unions, the minister added. Also on Thursday, the carrier warned the national strike authority that possible mass absenteeism by its staff could wreak havoc at Rome's Fiumicino airport at the weekend.

The warning came as Alitalia struggled to return thousands of suitcases to passengers after a wildcat go-slow by baggage handlers' against planned job cuts plunged the national carrier's luggage service into chaos. Lupi swiftly condemned the announced action. "This could paralyze Fiumicino…it would be unacceptable and intolerable," he said.

Today Me, Tomorrow You: Rome's Memento Mori Tombs

An intrestin article about "Rome's skeletons Art". Read this incredible history at link below: 

For sale at one euro: a house in an idyllic Sicilian village

Council in Gangi selling off around 20 homes for the price of a cup of coffee in the hope of attracting new life to hilltop community

read article at following link:

Rosetta space craft reaches comet after 10-year voyage

Agency says shuttle, with Italian help, first to orbit a comet

(ANSA) - Rome, August 6 - After a 10-year journey through the Solar System, the Rosetta space craft has become the first ever to orbit a comet, the European Space Agency said Wednesday. The Rosetta finally caught up with the comet, officially known as 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, after crossing millions of kilometres of space, bouncing between Earth and Mars and dodging asteroids.

Reaching the comet is a milestone for European space exploration, in which Italy has invested heavily through the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and with industry. "It (is) a particularly important moment in the history of the exploration of the universe, we expect a lot of information on the formation of our Solar System," from the Rosetta's voyage, said Roberto Battiston, president of the ASI. 

Italy's coasts 'martyred' by construction, WWF says

Adriatic coastline most urbanized in Mediterranean basin

(ANSA) - Rome, August 6 - Italy's once pristine coastline has been "devoured" and "martyred" by floods of cement used to build infrastructure, resorts and shopping centres, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a report released Wednesday. About 10% of the peninsula's 8,000-km coastline has been permanently altered by ports, motorways, dams and barriers, the report said. No region has been immune from the building frenzy, but the most "wounded" coastlines are in Sicily, Sardinia, and above all, the Adriatic coast. Described as "the most urbanized in the entire Mediterranean basin", it makes up 17% of the national coastline and is 70% covered in construction.

Even so-called "protected areas" have not been spared. As many as 312 "human macro activities" have eroded the natural soil from Italy's "beloved shores", giving rise to "structures that have altered the landscape, causing losses of biodiversity and natural heritage", the WWF warned. The report cited notorious examples such as the rapacious development of Friuli's Sistiana Bay, a tourist resort built at Basento in Basilicata, and construction at Castellamare di Stabia in Campania.

The WWF denounced what it said is "a clear lack of planning," adding that there is no national "custodian" of the coastline to oversee development and prevent environmental degradation. Instead, this task is fragmented between different levels of State, regional, and local governments. 

Renzi calls for 'courage' after return to recession

Premier says must go forward with greater determination

(ANSA) - Rome, August 6 - Premier Matteo Renzi on Wednesday said his government had to have even more courage in working for change after national statistics agency Istat announced Italy had slipped into its third recession in five years. "The negative growth data should not lead us to make the usual automatic excuses," Renzi, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, said in a letter to the lawmakers supporting his executive. "We have to have the courage and desire to look at reality," added the premier, who has embarked on an ambitious reform programme after unseating his PD colleague Enrico Letta to take the helm of government in February. "Italy has everything needed to make it and emerge from the crisis. But it has to change.

"We have to keep going with even greater determination - without uncertainty, without fear, without braking. "The process of reform has begun. It's proceeding. A journey that there is no returning from has started". Italy posted positive growth for the first time in over two years when its GDP increased 0.1% in the final quarter of 2013 with respect to the previous three months. But hopes of recovery were quickly dashed when that gain was reversed in the first three months of 2014.

Istat's preliminary estimate Wednesday that GDP dropped 0.2% in the second quarter means that the country is officially back in recession. "In 2012 we registered negative growth of 2.4% in 2012, in 2013 -1.6%. In the first six months of 2014 were are at -0.3%. "We have to reverse the trend. But it only depends on us, on our work in parliament and in the country". 

Two Italian aid workers missing in Syria

Crisis unit and intelligence services working on case

(ANSA) - Rome, August 6 - The foreign ministry in Rome on Wednesday said that two Italian aid workers were missing in Syria. The ministry said its crisis unit and the Italian intelligence services were working on the case. "The two citizens were in Aleppo to follow humanitarian projects in the health and water sectors," the ministry said. "The crisis unit has made contract with the families (of the missing pair) and they are being constantly informed about the developments". 

Skull found on Concordia, not necessarily missing steward's

Indian only victim of disaster whose body not found

(ANSA) - Genoa, August 6 - A human skull has been found on the wreck of Costa Concordia by crews searching for the body of Indian steward Russel Rebello, the only victim of the January 2012 disaster whose remains have not yet been recovered, ANSA sources said. The skull does not necessary belong to Rebello as it was found in the same area of the ship where the badly decomposed body of another victim, a woman, had previously been found.

Rebello is believed to have been the 32nd fatality among the passengers and crew of the vessel after it hit rocks off Giglio island on January 13, 2012. A Spanish diver died while working on the salvage operation in January, taking the Concordia's overall death toll to 33. 

Concordia captain Schettino's uni appearance sparks furore

Disgraced official shares 'panic-management' expertise

(ANSA) - Rome, August 6 - Education Minister Stefania Giannini expressed dismay on Wednesday after it emerged that former Costa Corcordia captain Francesco Schettino spoke on "panic management"at a conference organised by Rome's La Sapienza University. Schettino is on trial on charges including abandoning ship and multiple manslaughter for the Corcordia disaster, in which 32 people died in January 2012 when he ran the huge cruise liner onto rocks off the Island of Giglio. "I find it disconcerting that Schettino took part in a conference organised by Rome's La Sapienza University," Giannini said. La Sapienza's Rector, Luigi Frati, said Schettino's invitation to an event staged by his university was "shameful and inopportune," adding that Professor Vincenzo Mastronardi, who allegedly asked the former commander to speak, had been reported to its ethics committee "for eventual disciplinary action". Outraged commentators suggested that La Sapienza university now invite Mafia bosses to lecture on legality. "Truly, everything in Italy is tragically possible," said Giorgio Innocenzi and Igor Gelarda, secretary and chair of CONSAP police officers' union. "Let's not forget that Schettino dealt with panic very well that evening. He made a quick exit from the liner". Grosseto chief prosecutor Francesco Verusio, in charge of the legal case against Schettino, said he was "truly outraged at what can happen in this country. Schettino gave a lecture and they also gave him a diploma. A diploma for what? What will the young people there have made of it? Let's hope they poked fun at him". Barbara Saltamartini, an MP for the New Centre Right (NCD) party, said the government should intervene to prevent the former cruise ship captain trying to cash in on his ill-gotten celebrity. "This is pure madness. We expect urgent and clear action from Giannini, not just a generic dressing down," she said. 

Visitors flock to Trevi Fountain restoration-in-progress

Over 250,000 visit fountain as it undergoes restoration

(ANSA) - Rome, August 6 - Tourists are flocking to visit the Trevi fountain as it undergoes a 2.12-million-euro restoration courtesy of Fendi fashion house, officials said Wednesday. Since the restoration began on June 30, some 250,000 visitors have strolled over a walkway above the central portion of the fountain, enabling tourists to get a better glimpse of ongoing work on the 18th-century Baroque masterpiece by Nicola Salvi immortalized by movie stars including Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita.

Visitors arrived at an average rate of 1,200 people an hour, officials said. Fendi is funding the restoration of the Trevi Fountain in an initiative similar to work on the Colosseum and the Spanish steps, funded respectively by Tod's entrepreneur Diego Della Valle and Bulgari jeweler.

martedì 5 agosto 2014

Defence minister visits Italian troops in Afghanistan

'Italy is proud of you' Pinotti tells soldiers

(ANSA) - Rome, August 5 - Italian Minister of Defence Roberta Pinotti on Tuesday thanked Italian troops participating in the 48-nation, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan. "You can be satisfied with the success of the (elections) held within your area of responsibility," she told the troops in the Afghan city of Herat.

Pinotti said that voter turnout reached 58%, compared to just 31% in 2009, and that 44% of those who voted were women. "Italy is proud of you," Pinotti said. "You are the best advertisement for our country abroad". Italy's military presence after the ISAF mission ends in 2014 will hinge on future agreements with the United States and NATO, the minister explained.

NATO's primary objective in Afghanistan is to help the government develop and train new security forces. Since 2011, security tasks have been gradually shifted to the Afghans and ISAF's mission has shifted from what NATO calls "a combat-centric role" to training, advising and assisting. 

Seven Piazza Navona cafés shut down in protest

After court upholds city ordinance against sidewalk tables

(ANSA) - Rome, Aug. 5 - Seven posh cafés on the Piazza Navona remained closed in protest Tuesday after a city ordinance eliminated their sidewalk tables. The renowned Tre Scalini ice cream parlour adjacent to the huge Bernini fountain in the centre of the square closed Monday after a local court confirmed a new ordinance restricting the number of tables on the square, meaning that Scalini's permission to seat customers outside was revoked together with that of the nearby bar Bernini. Other dolce-vita style watering holes that closed Tuesday included the I Quattro Fiumi and the Caffè Nettuno.

White-hatted police officers with pistols on their belts glared at café owners standing ready to confiscate tables if necessary, but terrified waiters scurried to store the furniture inside their establishments before lowering the shutters in evident mourning for more lucrative summers. In all only three bars remain open to satisfy the needs of the hordes of tourists strolling the baroque square. 

Rome set to celebrate Augustus' 2000th anniversary

Newly restored sites open to public for first time ever

(ANSA) - Rome, August 5 - A schedule of special events was announced on Tuesday to mark the 2,000th anniversary on August 19 of the death of Augustus, the first emperor of Rome who ruled for 41 years from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD. Culture Minister Dario Francheschini and Rome Archeology Superintendent Mariarosaria Barbera presented the schedule of events, including exhibitions of artifacts that be open to the public for the first time ever. On the Palatine Hill, where Augustus made his home and which became the seat of imperial power during his reign, the Palatine Museum will unveil a restored ground floor with a new annex, as well as an upper floor outfitted with new multimedia equipment and a movie on the life of Augustus and his reign.

In the House of Augustus, all of the rooms that have been excavated thus far will be on display to the public for the first time. Visits are by reservation and open to small groups only, to preserve the site. Reservations can be made beginning on August 25 for the opening date, September 18. Also on the Palatine, the House of Livia, built for Augustus's beloved third wife and trusted adviser Livia Drusilla, has been restored and equipped with an elevator allowing access to the disabled. As well, recently restored elaborate frescoes on the walls of the triclinium, an underground dining area, will be on display to the public for the first time ever.

Beginning on October 1, visitors to the Roman Forum will be able to walk the ancient way leading from the Vico Jugario to the Basilica Giulia, an area which was closed to the public in the 1980s in order to restore its original topography. At the Diocletian Baths, one of four complexes that make up the system of the National Roman Museums, the restored swimming pool complex as well as an adjacent hall housing architectural fragments from the baths themselves, will open to the public from September 24. Missing from the celebrations will be the Mausoleum of Augustus, which is perhaps the most famous of the great emperor's monuments.

Begun in 23 AD upon the emperor's return from a military campaign in Egypt, the mausoleum ended up housing many of Augustus' relatives. The monument is off limits pending restoration, the original four-million-euro budget for which has been halved. "I imagine the city is coming up with a new, more restricted restoration plan," Barbera commented. 

Etihad CEO meets Alitalia shareholders to finalise deal

Hogan opens talks as carrier partners agree 300-mln-euro boost

(ANSA) - Rome, August 5 - Alitalia shareholders reached an agreement Tuesday on dividing up contributions to a 300-million-euro recapitalization of the troubled Italian carrier, official sources said. As well, Etihad Airways CEO James Hogan arrived in Rome for talks with shareholding partners and representatives of the airline's bankers aimed at finalizing a major deal with the airline despite staff continuing job action to protest looming layoffs. Hogan also met with Alitalia President Roberto Colaninno and Managing Director Giovanni Castellucci for some 30 minutes.

No statements were made after those preliminary talks. Also on Tuesday, publicly-owned mail service Poste Italiane disclosed that it is increasing its investment in Alitalia from 70 to 75 million euros, industry sources said. Meanwhile some ground crews involved in handling airline freight for Alitalia said they were protesting job cuts under the deal with Etihad by fulfilling no more than basic contract requirements. That was expected to slow down parcel handling and delay deliveries.

Unions were scheduled to meet Tuesday and again Thursday to discuss the deal, which is to be officially signed on Friday Labour remains one of the final hurdles in the pact, which will see Abu Dhabi-based Etihad invest about 560 million euros to take a 49% stake in Alitalia in what Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi has described as a life-saving deal that will keep the carrier from falling into the abyss. Most unions representing Alitalia workers have accepted Etihad's demands for 2,171 job cuts, and in some cases other positions have been offered to try to cushion the blow. But one union has called for a renegotiation of the pact, which also calls for wage cuts for Alitalia workers than remain after the Etihad deal. Alitalia has said that all its unions must support the Etihad deal before it can be finalized.

The deal cleared a major hurdle last week when Alitalia's board agreed to formally recommend shareholders approve a 300-million-euro capital increase to keep the airline alive until the Etihad deal is finalized. Also on Tuesday, Unicredit CEO Federico Ghizzoni commented that the light has become visible at the end of the tunnel. "I think the deal is going in the right direction and that we are close to signing," said Ghizzoni, whose bank owns almost 13% of Alitalia. 

Defence meets marines in India, hopes for New Delhi deal

Pinotti stops in New Delhi following Afghanistan trip

(ANSA) - Rome, August 5 - Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti met Tuesday with the two Italian marines being held in India after the shooting deaths of two fishermen during an anti-piracy mission in 2012. Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone are living at the Italian embassy in New Delhi.

Pinotti told that the meeting was "of a private nature and was motivated by desire to demonstrate the Italian government's solidarity with the two marines". The next court hearing in the marines' case is scheduled for mid-October, after a delay due to illness on the part of the judge forced a postponement last week. Rome has started to seek international arbitration in the case, while continuing dialogue with the Indian authorities. "The possibility of an agreement between the two governments would be the most desirable element to resolve the affair," said Pinotti.

Latorre and Girone are accused of killing fishermen Valentine (aka Gelastine) and Ajesh Binki after allegedly mistaking them for pirates and opening fire on their fishing trawler while guarding the privately owned Italian-flagged oil-tanker MT Enrica Lexie off the coast of Kerala on February 15, 2012. Rome has protested a long series of delays in the case, which has caused major diplomatic friction between the countries. It successfully fought to ensure New Delhi take the death penalty off the table and drop the application of a severe anti-terrorism, anti-piracy law, which it said would have equated Italy with a terrorist state.

Rome argues the case is not India's jurisdiction as the incident took place outside the country's territorial waters. It also says the marines should be exempt from prosecution in India, because they are servicemen who were working on an anti-piracy mission, and allowed to return home. 

Italy stock market plummets 1.62% on Fiat, Telecom sell-offs

Fiat -3.11% on Chrysler merger, Telecom -4.62%

(ANSA) - Milan, August 5 - Italy's FTSE-Mib index declined 1.62% to close at 20,052 points Tuesday, touching lows not seen since March, ahead of what are likely to be disappointing second-quarter GPD figures to be released Wednesday, analysts said. Also dragging the market down was a sell-off in shares of Fiat, which plunged 3.11% to close at 6.84 euros a share.

The carmaker has shed 12% since shareholders approved a merger with Chrysler auto maker last week, and dropped by more than 7% at one point during trading Tuesday, triggering speculation as to the cause. While some suggested the sell-off could be related to a Chinese investigation of trading practices in the auto industry, others speculated that it might have been driven by Fiat shareholders who disapproved of the merger that created the new Fiat Chrysler Automotives (FCA) and were cashing out.

Last Friday, the majority of Fiat shareholders approved the merger deal that also allowed those who opposed the deal to sell their shares at a premium during a 15-day window which opened Tuesday. But in its statement, Fiat said it had not yet received any notification that shareholders were exercising their right to sell at 7.727 euros a share, well above the trading price.

By mid-afternoon Tuesday, Fiat shares recovered enough to trade at about 6.79 euros or 3.89% below the previous day's close. The market also suffered from a sell-off in shares of Telecom, which plummeted 4.62% after Spain's Telefonica announced plans to sell its 8.3% stake in the Italian company to Vivendi SA. Most other European stock exchanges posted gains, with London closing up 0.07%, Paris adding 0.37% and Frankfurt rising by 0.39%. 

Interior minister expels imam for anti-Semitic Gaza sermon

Veneto Muslim community praises decision

(ANSAmed) - ROME, AUGUST 5 - Italy's Interior minister, Angelino Alfano, has ordered the immediate expulsion of the imam of the San Dona di Piave mosque, near Venice, the Moroccan Raoudi Albdelbar, due to ''serious disturbance of public order, danger to national security, and religion discrimination''. The imam, according to the Italian daily Libero, had incited hatred of Jews during a Friday sermon in late July. ''Oh Allah,'' he reportedly said in the sermon, a video of which the Israel-linked Middle East Media Research Institute published on its website, ''Do to them what will make us happy. Oh Allah, count them one by one and kill all of them to the very last. Do not spare a single one of them.'' ''It is unacceptable,'' Alfano said, ''that a clearly anti-Semitic sermon is held, with explicit incitement to violence and religious hatred. Let my decision stand as a warning to all those that think hatred can be preached in Italy.'' The measure, the interior ministry stated, was based on careful verification conducted by the anti-terrorism service, with assistance from the Venice special investigations unit and in agreement with the prosecutor's office. Both the Italian political world and the Muslim community of the Veneto region have praised the interior minister's decision to expel someone who ''preaches death''.

''Islam is a religion of peace. Those who preach death should be thrown out of mosques,'' said the head of the Islamic Federation of Veneto and the Assalam association of Annone Veneto, Bouchaib Tanji. ''We approve of the decision,'' he said, noting the support also from the Migranti della Venezia Orientale association. ''It is unacceptable that an imam, who has been tasked with preaching the Quran and prayers of the Muslim faithful, incites violence against someone and the killing of anyone. Even worse if he calls on God to exterminate an entire population. The killing of those of the Jewish faith does not make any other human happy, just as would be the case with the extermination of Muslims or Christians or any other population.''

Renzi hopeful he will land election-reform consensus

As Upper House continues passage of his Senate reform bill

(ANSA) - Rome, August 5 - Center-left Premier Matteo Renzi said Tuesday he is confident he will reach an agreement on a new election law that will be acceptable to the main opposition parties. "The capacity to pass reforms is key, and I'm confident we'll find an agreement on the election law," Renzi said.

The premier last Thursday requested a mandate from his centre-left Democratic Party (PD) to renegotiate a deal that he has with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of the opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party, for a new election system. A bill based on that deal, nicknamed the Italicum, is being examined in parliament and has cleared the Lower House. Renzi is trying to get the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) on board. He recently held two meetings with the M5S to try to find a compromise that would also be acceptable to the movement, arguing that agreement on the "rules of the game" should be as broad as possible.

The Italicum sets out to replace the dysfunctional system that contributed to the inconclusive outcome to last year's general election and was declared unconstitutional. It sets bars for small parties to force them into alliances and limit their veto power, and provides a 15% winner's bonus for a coalition that gets 37% to ensure it has a working majority in parliament. The Italicum contemplates a run-off vote for the bonus seats if no coalition reaches the 37% threshold. Under this system, voters do not have the power to state on their ballots which candidate on any given party list they want to represent them in parliament - the so-called preferences.

The premier said Thursday that he wanted to "try to raise the threshold" for bonus seats for the winning coalition in elections and "introduce voter preferences" in an attempt to win over the M5S, which has been critical of how low the threshold is. Renzi stressed that all the Italicum's "contracting parties" had to agree to any changes to the bill. He is expected to meet Berlusconi to talk about the election bill sometime this week. As well, he may address the floor of the Senate on Thursday as the government's contested bill to revamp the Upper House moves towards completing its first reading, ANSA sources said Tuesday. The government is aiming for the 40-article bill to complete its first reading in the Senate before parliament stops work for its summer recess at the weekend.

Having largely overcome a massive campaign by opponents to obstruct the bill's progress, with filibustering and the presentation of almost 8,000 amendments, the executive may be able to wrap things up with a day to spare and see a final vote staged Thursday. The package will see the Senate turned into a leaner assembly of local-government representatives with minimal law-making powers to save money and making passing legislation easier. "It's the start of an historic change," Renzi told reporters while taking a short walk outside the premier's office in Rome. In spite of dramatic walk-outs, constant interruptions, and opposition MPs wearing gags and waving stuffed animals to mock the government, the Upper House in its past four sessions has approved cutting the Senate from 315 to 100 members, lifted their parliamentary immunity, and eliminated life Senators.

Late on Tuesday, the Senate approved two more articles of Renzi's bill, one eliminating the government's power to issue multi-purpose decrees on many unrelated issues, and the other divesting the Senate of its power to grant amnesties and pardons. That power will be vested in the Lower House only. 

Rome to pay tribute to Flemish master Memling

Painter sought by Pietro Bembo, John Donne, and the Medicis

(ANSA) - Rome, August 4 - Masterful portraits, diptychs and triptychs on loan from museums around the world will comprise an upcoming exhibition of work by Flemish master Hans Memling (c. 1430-1494), opening October 10 at the Scuderie del Quirinale museum in the Italian capital. Curated by German art historian Till-Holger Borchert, chief curator of the Groeningemuseum and Arentshuis museums in Bruges, this is believed to be the first one-man show on the Flemish genius, whose portraits were much in demand among the European aristocracy of the 15th century. Memling's style influenced the work of numerous late-15th-century Italian painters, and his portraits were popular in Italy, where he was much in demand by aristocrats such as scholar and poet Pietro Bembo in Venice and the heads of the house of Medici in Florence.

Building on the work of Flemish predecessors such as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, Memling built a reputation for himself stretching beyond Flanders and Italy to Britain, where patrons included British metaphysical poet, Sir John Donne. Among the works on loan for the show at the Scuderie is a magnificent series of portraits, such as Portrait of a Man, loaned by Queen Elizabeth from the Royal Collection, and another Portrait of a Man, from the Frick Museum in New York City. Also on view will be the the Pagagnotti Triptich - of which part is housed in the Uffizi and part in London's National Gallery - and the Moreel family triptich, from the Groeningemuseum in Bruges.

Fans of the Flemish master will flock to see his sumptuous, dramatic Last Judgement: commissioned by Florentine banker Angelo Tani, it was stolen by pirates, who sold the captive painting to the city of Danzig. As legend has it, the citizens loved the masterpiece so much that it was placed in the city's cathedral. Tani fought in vain for the return of the three-part painting, with its Saint Michael weighing souls on a set of scales in the middle section while the virtuous ascend to heaven on the left part of the triptych and the damned spiral downward into hell on the right.

The Last Judgement had a long and dramatic saga of its own, for it was raided by Napoleon's troops, who took it to the Louvre, then handed over to the Soviets after World War II as part of compensation for war damages and placed in the Hermitage, but eventually returned to the National Museum in the Polish city of Gdansk. The Memling exhibition is on view through January 18. 

Bank of China holds 2% of Telecom, Prysmian as well as FCA

Stake in carmaker revealed Friday

(ANSA) - Milan, August 4 - The People's Bank of China has 2% stakes in Telecom Italia and Italian cables-producer Prysmian, stock-market regulator Consob said Monday. Consob also said that the Chinese central bank has a 2% stake in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), although this had already been announced on Friday at the general meeting that finalised Fiat's merger with Chrysler. 

Prosecutors look at Pantani murder claims

Suspicions cyclists forced to drink deadly cocaine dose

(ANSA) - Rome, August 4 - Prosecutors in the Italian seaside town of Rimini have reopened the case of Marco Pantani after the late cyclist's family presented evidence to suggest he may have been murdered. Pantani was found dead aged 34 in Rimini 10 years ago, and a court there ruled that he had died after accidentally overdosing on cocaine.

The rider, the last man to complete the Tour de France-Giro d'Italia double in the same year in 1998, was known to have a drug problem and his career had been dogged by doping scandals. But his mother, Tonina Pantani, never believed the official account of his death and relentlessly campaigned for the case to be reopened, saying the much-loved cyclist was murdered. She presented a report to prosecutors with evidence that she says shows that Pantani was beaten and then forced to drink a lethal dose of cocaine dissolved in liquid.

As a result, chief Rimini prosecutor Paolo Giovagnoli ordered one of his magistrates to open a probe against possible unknown perpetrators of the murder on Friday. The probe is expected to start in earnest in September after Italy's summer holiday's season. The Pantani family say cuts and bruises on Pantani's body showed he had been beaten. They also argue that the amount of cocaine found in his system could have only been reached if he had drunk it. They say Pantani, who was nicknamed the pirate for his penchant for wearing bandanas and earrings and his bold attacks on tough mountain climbs, would not have done so willingly. "I want answers, that's all," Tonina Pantani told ANSA on Monday. "When I have those answers, I'll be fine. "If I've battled for 10 years, it's because something was not right".

She added that she had been inundated with messages of support via social media from all over the world since the news of the reopening of the case broke at the weekend. "I didn't expect anything from anyone, but I knew how much affection there was for Marco," she said. "It wasn't necessary for them to show this after the case was reopened. The affection was there before too. "If I did all this, I did in part thanks to the strength that the fans have given me over the years". 

Tourists delight at Rome Spanish Steps pedestrian zone

Drivers complain of rerouting away from central tourism hot-spot

(ANSA) - Rome, August 4 - Tourists hailed as "wonderful" and "marvelous" the implementation Monday of a new pedestrian zone near Rome's popular Spanish Steps and Piazza di Spagna. "Cars are not allowed? I think that is right and normal," commented Thomas, who said he was from Germany and vacationing in Rome with his family. "In Rome, which is an open-air museum, it should not be otherwise". The new plan, which closes the tourism hot-spot to most cars from August through November, threatens drivers with fines of up to 80 euros if they enter the new pedestrian zone.

A fine of about half that amount will be applied to anyone who tries to park in the area, excluding residents and electric vehicles. Public transportation will still be permitted in the new pedestrian zone. The zone, reaching as far as the Via del Corso, was not popular with everyone. Some local residents complained that closing the square entirely will force more traffic onto other nearby streets, such as Via Condotti. Delivery truck drivers also complained that the traffic restrictions will make it harder for them to unload goods for stores in the area.

Meanwhile, a major retailers association called for city authorities to closely monitor the area to ensure it does not become an informal 'souk' for street vendors. Taxi drivers seemed divided, with at least one welcoming the closure, adding that cabbies had been warned in advance of the change. "A place like this needs to be returned to the people," said the driver. The closure will encompass about 15 small side streets in the area as well as most of Via del Babuino and part of Via di Ripetta, which both branch off from the Piazza di Spagna. The city of Rome, on its official website, boasted that the vehicle closure will help restore the image of the area to that shown in the popular 1953 film "Roman Holiday", starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn.

Parts of the film were shot around the Spanish Steps. "At the time of Roman Holiday, (director) William Wyler's film, around the Piazza di Spagna Gregory Peck (playing the role of) Joe Bradley went quietly around on a Vespa," said a city statement on the municipal website. "But it was 1953 and in Rome, Vespas, Lambrettas and little else circulated," the statement continued. The move comes after Rome's city council agreed last year to strict limits on traffic along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, connecting the iconic Colosseum with Piazza Venezia and running through the Roman Forum. 

Costa Concordia salvage master sends thanks to Giglio

Specialist oversaw parbuckling operation on shipwreck

(ANSA) - Grossetto, August 4 - South African salvage master Nick Sloane thanked the people of Giglio Monday as he prepared to leave the Tuscan island and his work in salvaging the stricken Costa Concordia.

At the same time, he was given a harbor tribute as he bid farewell to the American-Italian team that worked on the complex removal of the cruise ship that crashed in January 2012, killing 32 people. "Thanks for your support over these past 27/28 months that we have been on Giglio," Sloane said in a letter published on the island's website, "The Costa Concordia was a bigger challenge than any of us thought, 'way back in May of 2012 - we knew it would be difficult, but that was an understatement," Sloane wrote.

As the senior salvage master, Sloan oversaw the complex but ultimately successful parbuckling operation to upright the partially sunken cruise liner last autumn. Sloane's letter thanked the people of Giglio for their "exceptional" hospitality.

The massive Costa Concordia wreck was removed from the Tuscan island on July 23 and slowly towed up the coast to a port in Genoa where the 114,500-tonne liner will be turned into scrap. The saga of the deadly disaster will continue for some time to come in the criminal courts, with former captain Francesco Schettino on trial on multiple charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, and abandoning the ship before it was evacuated. 

The world's first underwater photo exhibit, at Ponza island

Salvo Galano's portraits, floating in a magical marine embrace

(ANSA) - Ponza, August 4 - The famed resort island of Ponza has added an unusual artistic attraction to its fantastically shaped rock formations dotted with Etruscan ruins and lapped by famously turquoise seas: the world's first underwater photography exhibition, by portraitist Salvo Galano. Hanging parallel to the surface of the water and three meters below, the show's 28 large-scale prints - portraits and landscapes taken during the photographer's latest trip to Asia - is titled titled Southeast Passage.

The exhibition took months of experimentation to perfect on a technical level, as the artist tried out different materials and studied the currents around the island to create an installation that is in harmony with the ever-changing angles of the sunlight through the water at different times of day.

The show can be enjoyed by snorkeling or rowing above it in the crystalline waters of the Baia del Frontone, a key destination on this lovely crescent-shaped island that was first settled by the Etruscans and is said to be where Homer and his crew fell under the spell of Circe the sorceress. "Ponza is the sea, a crystalline sea that dominates over everything. The show has become the sea," said Galano, who has exhibited in Milan, New York, and Amsterdam. Southeast Passage is on view through September 14.

Some 1,400 migrants are mostly war refugees, officials say

Will be sent to reception centers throughout Italy

(ANSA) - Salerno, August 4 - An Italian Navy vessel is expected Tuesday in the port city of Salerno with 1,414 rescued migrants on board, most of the war refugees, officials said Monday.

Italian rescuers last month brought another 2,128 migrants from Iraq, Palestine, Somalia and Syria to this city lying close to the Amalfi Coast. The city is ready to process the migrants, most of whom are fleeing wars in their homelands. They will be spread out among reception centers in the south-central regions of Calabria, Campania, Lazio, and Molise as well as the north-central regions of Emilia Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria, and Lombardy, officials said.

Italy has been rescuing migrants coming from war-torn northern and sub-Saharan Africa since October 2013, after 366 men, women and children perished when their unseaworthy boats capsized almost within sight of the coast of Sicily. 

Renzi denies secret Berlusconi deal amid reform rush

As Senate approves several articles of premier's reform bill

(ANSA) - Rome, August 4 - Premier Matteo Renzi has denied speculation he sealed a secret deal with Silvio Berlusconi to win the Forza Italia leader's support for his reforms to Italy's political machinery and a new election law. Renzi, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), denied reports that three-time premier Berlusconi had requested a special measure that would enable him to stand in elections again after becoming ineligible following a definitive tax-fraud conviction last year.

"The time of laws tailor-made for the benefit of a specific person is over," Renzi said in an interview published by Rome-based daily La Repubblica on Monday. "Do you really think I'd sign something with Berlusconi and hide it in a drawer? This is the result of a culture of suspicion, nurtured by a part of the left". Renzi and Berlusconi are set to meet sometime this week to discuss electoral law reform, with the date and time to be confirmed, PD officials said. Meanwhile, voting on Renzi's Constitutional reform bill resumed Monday after Senators late last week approved its first two articles which, with a total of 4,500 amendments between them, were the most hotly contested by opponents. Of the two articles approved last week, the first stripped the Senate of most of its lawmaking powers and concentrated them in the Lower House, while the second cut the number of Senators from 315 to 100, of whom 95 are to be chosen by regional councils and five to be nominated by the Italian president. It passed with 194 votes in favor, 26 nays, and eight abstentions.

On Monday, the Upper House approved article three of Renzi's bill, eliminating life Senators - appointed by the president of the Republic in recognition of social, scientific, or artistic merit - and replacing them with Senators appointed to a non-renewable period of seven years. Opponents had filed 90 amendments to this article. With 193 in favor, 9 against and eight abstaining, it also approved the ninth reform article, denying parliamentary immunity to members of what will be the new, slimmed-down Senate with reduced lawmaking powers. The voting continued amid yet another walk-out by the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), which staged a similar protest last Friday along with MPs from the left-wing SEL party and the anti-immigrant, separatist Northern League. "This trashy piece of reform doesn't deserve our participation," said M5S Senate whip Vito Petrocelli.

While the M5S continued to bluster and pout, Italy's premier pronounced himself satisfied with the pace of reform after overcoming what appeared only last week to be an unbreakable standoff with opponents of his bill. "Things really are changing," Renzi tweeted.