venerdì 15 agosto 2014

Stolen Guercino uninsured, commission job suspected

'Church can't afford to insure all its masterpieces' says priest

(ANSA) - Bologna, August 14 - A Baroque masterpiece by the Italian painter known as Guercino that was stolen from a church in Modena was not insured, and the church did not have an alarm, its parish priest said Thursday. The church cannot afford to insure every painting in its possession, according to Father Gianni Gherardi, parish priest of the Church of San Vincenzo, where the priceless painting went missing Sunday.

The Modena Savings Bank Foundation, which had equipped the church with an alarm as part of a renovation it financed in the early 2000s, also declined any responsibility in the chain of missing security links that led to the painting's apparently easy theft. "The alarm system had been turned off, because it was expensive to keep up," explained Monsignor Giacomo Morandi, from the Modena archdiocese. "This is a very serious blow to the city's artistic heritage," Modena Savings Bank Foundation President Andrea Landi remarked. "I hope investigators will quickly identify those responsible and return this extraordinary work of art to the people of Modena". The city and regional culture superintendent, Stefano Casciu, said the Church owns both the painting and the building that housed it, so it is responsible for their custody. Police are analysing footage from security cameras in the vicinity of the church for clues and suspect the theft was commissioned, possibly by an unscrupulous collector.

The missing Guercino painting, which depicts the Madonna with Saint John the Evangelist and Gregory Thaumaturgus and measurs 293 x 184.5 cms, was taken along with its large frame, spurring investigators to speculate it was moved out in a van. The thieves may have hidden inside the church until it closed, police said.

The 1639 oil painting was one of Guercino's most renowned, admired and photographed works, making it impossible to sell or display in a museum be it Italian or foreign, officials said. "Its exact commercial value cannot be quantified, because it is a piece that is outside the market. Placing it, even in private, will be very difficult," Casciu pointed out. This could mean the thieves are experienced criminals working on commission for a high-profile collector. 

Napolitano says Camilli's death must be a warning to all

President extends sympathies to slain reporter's family

(ANSA) - Rome, August 14 - The death of Italian reporter Simone Camilli in the Gaza Strip should act as a warning, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said Thursday. Camilli was killed Wednesday by an Israeli grenade along with a Palestinian colleague and three Palestinian explosives experts who were trying to defuse it. "Simone's death, like that of the other victims of the blast and those of the many civilians of all ages and nationalities trapped in the violence of the war-torn Middle East, must act as us all," said the president while conveying his sympathies to the slain reporter's family and colleagues.

Camilli, 35, was an adept war reporter, covering first-hand Israel's Pillar of Cloud offensive in Gaza in December 2012, the 2011 exchange of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners for former Israeli Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, the arrest in May 2011 of former Bosnian Serb commander and accused war criminal Ratko Mladic, the 2008 war between Russia and Georgia, and the November 2007 clashes between Turkey and Kurdish militants. He is the first foreign journalist to die on the job in the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas, along with 16 local colleagues. The slain reporter is survived by his wife and three-year-old daughter. 

Some 540 human traffickers arrested since 2013 says Alfano

Interior minister on Lampedusa to thank Mare Nostrum forces

(ANSA) - Lampedusa, August 14 - Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said Thursday that 539 human traffickers have been arrested since May 1 last year. "This is a great result, demonstrating the effectiveness of our battle against the merchants of death," said the minister, adding that most of those arrested on human trafficking charges were Egyptian and Tunisian. Alfano spoke on the island of Lampedusa, which lies in the Strait of Sicily close to the Tunisian coast and is often the first European landfall for thousands of people paying human traffickers exorbitant fees and boarding unseaworthy, overcrowded vessels in a desperate bid to flee war, poverty, and cruel dictatorships in their African and Middle Eastern homelands.

"I am here to thank all our forces, who are out there saving human lives," said Alfano in reference to Italy's Mare Nostrum migrant search-and-rescue operation involving the Navy, the Coast Guard, and the merchant marine. 

Italy calls for 'coordinated action' on Iraq, Ukraine

Mogherini speaks out ahead of extraordinary EU council

(ANSA) - Rome, August 14 - Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini on Thursday called on the European Union to adopt a coordinated front on the crises in Iraq and Ukraine. "Now for common, coordinated action," Mogherini said via the Italian foreign ministry's Twitter account before an extraordinary council of EU foreign ministers on Friday. Italy and France had called for Friday's meeting, above all over the humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq, where jihadist Islamic State (ISIS) militias are driving hundreds of thousands of members of religious minorities from their homes.

On Wednesday Mogherini called for a "strong" EU response to the various flash points, including Libya and Gaza as well as Iraq and Ukraine. "There must be not only a joint declaration on all the crisis areas, but a decision on a joint, strong, and coordinated action," the minister said Thursday. 

European markets fall on Germany's economic weakness

Largest economy in region sheds 0.2%

(ANSA) - Rome, August 14 - Unexpected weakness in the German economy, Europe's largest, triggered financial market turmoil Thursday. Germany's gross domestic product (GDP) lost 0.2% in the second quarter compared with the first three months of the year, results that were weaker than expected. As well, France's economy was stagnant in the same period and following on data last week showing that Italy is back in recession, the overall economic news for the region has been bleak.

European financial markets responded with a sell-off. By mid-day, Italy's FTSE Mib was down 0.97% at 19,347.19, German's DAX index fell by 0.29% to 9,172.08 and the CAC in Paris dropped by 0.46% to 4,172.56 points. 

ECB warns of risks as Germany, France show weak data

European economies facing strong headwinds

(ANSA) - Rome, August 14 - Geopolitical risks are threatening the economic recovery in Europe, the European Central Bank warned Thursday. Its comments in a monthly report came at the same time as new data showed that Germany's economy contracted in the second quarter while the economy of France was stagnant. Last week, data showed Italy has fallen back into recession.

New figures on gross domestic product (GDP) showed that the large German economy shrank by 0.2% in the second quarter while in France, GDP was stagnant. The results are weaker than analysts had expected. 

Mogherini calls for 'strong, coordinated' action on Iraq

Ahead of emergency EU foreign ministers council Friday

(ANSA) - Rome, August 13 - Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini on Wednesday urged EU foreign ministers to come up with "strong, coordinated action" on Iraq, Libya and Gaza, the ministry said in a note. "There must be not only a joint declaration on all three crisis areas, but a decision on a joint, strong, and coordinated action," the minister said ahead of an emergency meeting of European Union foreign ministers Friday.

Italy and France had called for the meeting in the face of a humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq, jihadist Islamic State (IS) militias are reportedly driving hundreds of thousands from their homes. 

Italy medical team to Sierra Leone as Ebola deaths rise

As part of EU-funded lab to fight deadly West Africa epidemic

(ANSA) - Rome, August 13 - The international community, including Italy, took measures to help contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus that has so far killed 1,069 people and infected 1,975 in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday.

Rome's Spallanzani hospital will be sending a mobile laboratory unit to Sierra Leone on Thursday. The unit will have state-of-the-art technology and will be staffed by doctors form Italy and other European Union countries, hospital sources said. The EU-funded lab is the second to be set up in West Africa. The first such unit was sent to Guinea in March, and included a team of doctors from Spallanzani. 

Priceless Guercino painting stolen from Modena church

'Madonna with St. John Evangelist' dates from 1639

(ANSA) - Modena, August 13 - A priceless painting by the Italian Baroque painter known as Il Guercino has been stolen from a church in the northern city of Modena, police said Wednesday.

The parish priest raised the alarm upon realizing the 1639 oil on canvas painting of the Madonna with Saint John Evangelist and Gregory Thaumaturgus and measuring 293 x 184.5 cms had been absconded with overnight. Police are investigating the theft of the painting, which had recently returned from being on exhibit at the Venaria palace near Turin. 

Renzi confirms private meeting with Draghi

Premier visited European Central Bank chief at his summer home

(ANSA) - Rome, August 13 - Premier Matteo Renzi on Wednesday confirmed he met privately on Tuesday with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi in rural Umbria. "Yes, I saw Draghi yesterday," Renzi told reporters after visiting the Expo 2015 world's fair site in Milan. "I see him often". Renzi's office earlier refused to comment on reports that Renzi travelled to Citta' della Pieve by helicopter on Tuesday to meet with Draghi at his country home where the central banker is vacationing. There were no details of their meeting but they likely discussed the Italian economy, which has fallen into its third recession in five years.

Renzi's government has said it is confident that Italy will see solid economic growth next year despite data last week showing the economy fell into recession in the first half of this year. At the same time, Draghi said last week that a major contributing factor to Italy's weak gross domestic product (GDP) has been "the low level of private investment" in the country. And much of that is due to investor "uncertainty about (Italy's) reforms, a very powerful brake that discourages investment," Draghi said, noting that 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 do not," said Draghi. In an indirect response, Renzi was quoted by the Financial Times newspaper on Monday as saying that Italy was well aware it must undertake structural reforms, but that Rome would not have these imposed by the ECB or anyone else. "I agree with Draghi when he says that Italy needs to implement reforms, but I will decide how we are going to go about them," Renzi told the London-based newspaper. "Not the troika, not the ECB, not the European Commission," Renzi said. The troika is a committee made up of EC, the ECB and the International Monetary Fund to organise sovereign bailouts. 

Renzi says will end wasteful management of EU funds

EC denies reports Italy risks losing 41 bn euros

(ANSA) - Rome, August 13 - Premier Matteo Renzi said Wednesday that his government would change Italy's "model" for managing European Union funds to end mismanagement. "In the last few years and decades Italy has spent its European funds in the worst way possible," Renzi said during a visit to the site of Milan Expo 2015. "Our government will try to change the model by giving more money to strategic works and infrastructure projects". Renzi was speaking after the European Commission denied media reports that Italy risked losing up to 41 billion euros in structural funding for the 2014-2020 period for failing to present clear projects and co-financing plans for the cash.

Cabinet Undersecretary Graziano Delrio, widely considered Renzi's right-hand man, also dismissed the speculation in a government statement. "I can say that we are close to wrapping up the definitive text of the partnership agreement (with the EC) in September on the basis of the intense work carried out in recent weeks," Delrio said. "The 40 billion in EU funds in the partnership agreement that have yet to be stipulated today represent an opportunity to be spent right down to the last cent, not a risk of losing the money". 

Parolin says Pope hopes to promote peace in Korea

Reconciliation may follow dialogue between North and South

(ANSA) - Vatican City, August 12 - The visit by Pope Francis to South Korea could serve to promote peace and dialogue with its neighbour North Korea, Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said Tuesday. The papal visit that begins Wednesday when Francis leaves Rome will "help to open communication and dialogue," Parolin said in an interview with Vatican television.

"This has always been the great hope of the Holy See, which is also committed concretely in this direction," said Parolin. "The (Korean) peninsula is still crossed by many tensions and the peninsula needs peace and reconciliation," he added. "I think that the Pope's visit will the sense of continuing this work of solidarity with people who are in need, and to promote, to the extent possible, the opening of spaces for communication and dialogue because I believe, and it is a belief that the Pope has reiterated many times, that only through this communication and dialogue can you solve ongoing problems," said Parolin. Despite invitations from the pope's South Korean hosts, a delegation from North Korea has refused to attend a papal Mass for reconciliation at the Myeong-dong Cathedral, seat of the Archdiocese of Seoul.

This marks the first trip by Francis to Asia as pope, and his crammed schedule includes taking part in Asian Youth Day, meeting senior citizens, and meeting with the families of victims of the April Sewol ferry disaster that killed 304 people - many of them children and teens. Francis is scheduled to deliver 11 speeches during the trip including four in English, a language he does not often use in public. 

'We support Ukraine integrity' Renzi to Poroshenko

'Full, unconditional support of Ukraine territorial integrity'

(ANSA) - Rome, August 12 - Italy supports Ukraine's "territorial integrity", Premier Matteo Renzi told Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in a phone call Tuesday. Italy extends Ukraine its "full and unconditional support" and "renews its call for an immediate cease-fire", Renzi said.

The two leaders also discussed the humanitarian situation in the eastern part of the country, where the central government is battling pro-Russia separatists. Russia on Monday offered to send humanitarian aid to the war-torn sector, but NATO said Tuesday that any such intervention "without Ukraine's express consent and authorization would be illegal and unacceptable".

Kiev later said it will not authorize a Russian aid convoy to enter its territory. Renzi made the call ahead of a domestic tour on Wednesday, when he plans to visit the Expo world's fair in Milan, Naples, Reggio Calabria, and Sicily. 

Dad of aid worker kidnapped in Syria pleads for her release

Says he tried to convince his daughter to remain in Italy

(ANSA) - Milan, August 12 - The father of an Italian woman kidnapped while volunteering in Syria issued a plea for her release Tuesday, reminding her captors that she went to their country to help. Salvatore Marzullo issued his plea through the weekly Oggi magazine on newsstands Wednesday. Vanessa Marzullo 21, and Greta Ramelli, 20, were kidnapped in the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo. The two women had only been in Syria since July 28 and were working on health and water-related humanitarian aid projects, Italy's foreign ministry has said. "Those who made Vanessa and Greta prisoners should remember what they were there to do," Salvatore Marzullo told the magazine. "They wanted to do good and it would be a tragedy if someone responded with evil," he added.

The foreign ministry said last week that its crisis unit was active on the ground trying to secure the release of the two women. Salvatore Marzullo said he was also hurt by cruel remarks made by some who have questioned why the young women went to such a dangerous spot and risked getting into trouble. "It made me sick these days to read and listen to comments from people who describe them as careless," he said. "Vanessa is just the opposite. She is a girl who is deep and who identifies with the suffering of others and cannot stand by wringing her hands".

Salvatore Marzullo said he tried to convince his daughter not to go into a war zone, but rather to help by creating a refugee aid foundation near their home in Brembate, a town of just over 8,000 residents about 35 kilometers northeast of Milan. For now, he is waiting for news from Italy's foreign ministry as is the family of Greta Ramelli in Gavirate, 60 kilometers northwest of Milan.

In recent days, Lapo Pistelli, junior foreign affairs minister, said that the Italian government is "on the trail of the kidnappers". Ramelli and Marzullo were kidnapped in the Eli Ismo area west of Aleppo while they were guests in the house of the local "head of the revolutionary council," Jordanian newspaper Assabeel has reported. The two were allegedly abducted along with Daniele Rainieri, a reporter for Italian daily Il Foglio, by a group that has kidnapped several foreign journalists and volunteers, Assabeel said. The reporter managed to escape, however, and raised the alarm. Marzullo and Ramelli founded the Horryaty Project, bringing medical assistance to Syria, and have volunteered in Africa and India in the past. 

Beach just one of many options for August holiday

Museums and archeological sites to remain open on Ferragosto

(ANSA) - Rome, August 12 - Italy's ministry of culture has decided to keep museums, historic castles and archeological sites open on Ferragosto, Italy's August 15 bank holiday. Traditionally a beach holiday, the name Ferragosto derives from the original term Feriae Augusti (Augustus's rest), introduced by the Emperor Augustus in 18 BC as a time of rest after the harvest. In an effort to bring Italy's museums in line with the rest of Europe, Culture Minister Dario Franceschini in July implemented changes such as free admission on the first Sunday of every month and keeping museums open until 10pm on Fridays. This year, cultural heritage sites across the country will keep their doors open on Ferragosto, August 15, giving residents and visitors alike many alternatives to a day at the beach.

State-run castles abound in the Bel Paese. Among them is Castel del Monte in Puglia, a 13th-century citadel built by Emperor Frederick II, which UNESCO in 1996 declared a World Heritage Site as a "unique piece of medieval military architecture". Up north, a very different kind of castle is the picturesque Castello Miramare, a majestic 19th-century fortress with sumptuous interiors, built overlooking the waters of the Gulf of Trieste for Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian in the mid-1800s. While Italy is renowned for its impressive archeological sites, many of which fall under the State's August 15 special opening hours, one of the lesser-known attractions is Horace's Villa in Licenza (about an hour's drive northeast of Rome), an ancient Roman archeological site attributed to the poet, who lived during the time of the Emperor Augustus and mentioned the site as his villa many times in his writings.

State-run museums are also included in this special holiday opening, and as the holiday falls on a Friday, the museums will also take advantage of the weekly later opening hours. Some of the more famous include the Borghese Gallery in Rome and the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, while a few of the lesser-knowns are Ravenna's stunning 6th-century Basilica Sant'Appollinare in Classe, rich with Byzantine mosaics, and Ferrara's National Picture Gallery, which houses paintings from the 13th to the 17th century and is located in a palace made of of diamond-shaped marble slabs known as Palazzo dei Diamanti.

Noble residences and palaces round out the list of choices, ranging from the stunning Reggia of Caserta, a royal palace built in 1750 by Charles of Bourbon to be the center of the Kingdom of Naples; and some lesser-known homes open to the public such as the birthplace of writer Gabriele D'Annunzio in Pescara, on the coast of the Abruzzo region. 

Fiat to stick to 500-mln-euro cashing out limit

Company statement spurs investors as shares add 1.36%

(ANSA) - Turin, August 12 - Fiat will merge with Chrysler "as approved" by a majority of shareholders at the end of July, the Italian carmaker said Tuesday. That means the company led by CEO Sergio Marchionne does not intend to pay out more than 500 million euros to shareholders wishing to cash out of the deal that created Fiat Chrysler Automotives (FCA).

The 8% of shareholders who were opposed to the deal have a right to cash out at 7.727 euros a share, which is above the current market price. The company's statement spurred investors as shares added 1.36% to trade at around 7 euros a share late in the session. 

Art critic Phillippe Daverio joins debate on Riace bronzes

Controversy continues over possible display at Milan Expo

(ANSA) - Catanzaro, August 12 - Debate over whether the 2,500-year-old Riace bronzes should travel to Milan Expo 2015 continued Tuesday when art critic Philippe Daverio weighed in with ironic commentary in a popular magazine.

In an interview in this week's issue of the lifestyle magazine Oggi, he quipped that perhaps the statues should be divided so the collection would be put at risk. "Perhaps only one of the bronzes could go to Milan, leaving the other in Reggio Calabria," he said. "But then there would be a controversy over which one of the two to send, so we could ask cultural minister (Dario) Francheschini to flip a coin to decide," Daverio added. Italy should show its "cultural muscle" at Expo and should therefore consider a dedicated space for the Riace bronzes at the Expo to show the archaeological finds at their best, said Daverio.

Earlier this month, Simonetta Bonomi, Calabria's superintendent for cultural heritage, spoke of risks involved in moving and displaying the bronzes at Expo. She said that she hadn't received any official request to display them at Expo, but that "as a superintendency we've been talking about these risks for the last 30 years".

The bronzes spent four years stuck in bureaucratic red tape awaiting restoration and were returned for public display at Reggio Calabria's national archeological museum in December 2013. Calabria has historically kept a tight grip on the much-loved statues since their discovery by a diver in 1972. Regional authorities have allowed them to tour the country just once, in 1981, to sold-out venues in Rome, Venice, and Milan, a tour in which the statues were seen by over one million people overall.

The 2,500-year-old exceedingly rare bronzes stand two metres tall, and are an exceptionally realistic rendering of warriors or gods. Both are naked, with silver lashes and teeth, copper red lips and nipples, and eyes made of ivory, limestone, and a glass and amber paste. Among those in favor of displaying the bronzes at Expo include art critic and former undersecretary of cultural heritage Vittorio Sgarbi, who defended his position in last week's issue of Oggi, and Lombardy governor Roberto Maroni, who tweeted a link to Sgarbi's article. 

German decision to reopen Nazi massacre case welcomed

Some 116 children among 560 Italians killed, no soldiers charged

(ANSA) - Lucca, August 12 - The decision by German justice officials to reopen an investigation into a Second World War massacre of some 560 Italian civilians in Tuscany by Nazi soldiers 70 years ago is welcome news, a Rome prosecutor said Tuesday. "The statement from the (German) court aligns German justice with Italian (justice)," said prosecutor Marco De Paolis, who is responsible for the Italian case pressing for prosecutions in the massacre on August 12, 1944 that included 116 children in the village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema, near Lucca. "I hope that they will proceed to a judgment, and that this judgment is in compliance with Italian justice," he added.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said that on the 70th anniversary of the massacre, it was time for a "reopening of a door in the pursuit of accountability in a court of law". In a letter to the community of Sant'Anna di Camaiore, the president said he hoped for more cooperation from Germany on the investigation. "I wish to not miss this sad and solemn day," wrote Napolitano, one of several politicians sending messages acknowledging the anniversary. "I am always mindful, always supportive of the people of Sant'Anna di Camaiore, and express my admiration for those who continue to work tirelessly for the cause of truth and justice".

In May 2013, the attorney general of Stuttgart rejected efforts to have the case reopened by a victims' group while five of the alleged perpetrators of the massacre at Sant'Anna are still alive. That bid for a new investigation followed a study by Italian-German historian Carlo Gentile, who said he had found flaws in earlier probes carried out by German prosecutors. In October 2012, after a 10-year investigation, German magistrates said a lack of evidence had forced them to drop the case against the surviving Nazi soldiers accused in the massacre. Amid a national outcry at the time, Napolitano spoke out against the German court's ruling, calling it "disturbing".

In its own investigation and trial, the Italian military court condemned 10 of the ex-Nazi officers to life in prison in absentia. Germany refused to grant Italy's request for the arrest of those still alive. Italian prosecutors have issued European arrest warrants for as many as 15 German former soldiers without success.

Under the terms of a postwar settlement, Germany is not required to extradite alleged war criminals to Italy. The atrocity against the villagers and refugees hiding in the hillside village of Sant'Anna lasted only three hours and came in retaliation for actions by the Italian resistance against Germany.

Nazi soldiers rounded up civilians, locking them in barns and buildings before systematically executing many with machine guns. In other cases, grenades were thrown into locked buildings and basements to kill the people trapped inside. Even livestock was killed in what was described as a "scorched earth" operation. 

Italian soldier found dead at UNIFIL base in Lebanon

'Suicide or accidental shooting' investigators say

(ANSA) - Rome, August 12 - An Italian army soldier was found dead early on Tuesday at the southern Lebanese base in Shama which is hosting the Italian blue-helmet contingent taking part in the United Nations UNIFIL mission, authorities said. The non-commissioned officer from the northern Italian town of Palmanova had been serving with the Combat Service Support Battalion, a logistics division, since May. He was felled by a gunshot wound to the head from his service weapon. UNIFIL is working closely with Lebanese authorities to establish cause of death.

Murder has been ruled out, which leaves either suicide or an accident, investigators said. "He was an esteemed and committed peacekeeper who was dedicated to the UNIFIL mission," said UNIFIL commander Luciano Portolano, who offered his condolences to the soldier's family. 

Maradona accepts pope's invitation to Match for Peace

Argentina legend just one of greats taking part

(ANSA) - Rome, August 11 - Former Argentina great Diego Maradona has announced that he has accepted an invitation from his compatriot Pope Francis to attend a charity soccer game, the Interreligious Match for Peace, in Rome next month.

The match is being staged as part of the pope's appeals for an end to conflict in many parts of the world, including Iraq, Gaza and Ukraine. "It is an honour to be invited by Pope #Francis, to participate in the Interreligious Match for Peace, on September 1st, at the Olympic Stadium of Rome," Maradona said on his Facebook page.

The 53-year-old, who helped Napoli win two Serie A titles and a UEFA Cup during his 1984-91 stint in Italy, is just one of many football greats of past and present to say they will take part in the game. Others include Lionel Messi, Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Baggio, David Trezeguet, Andrea Pirlo, Gianluigi Buffon, Javier Zanetti, Roberto Baggio, Yuto Nagatomo and Samuel Eto'o. The money raised by the event will go to charity, including former Inter and Argentina defender Zanetti's Pupi Foundation to help poor children in his homeland.

Italians second-largest group with German jobless claims

Poles, Italians, Greeks and Bulgarians file for benefits

(ANSA) - Berlin, August 12 - Jobless claims in Germany are on the rise, and Italians are the second-largest beneficiary group, German tabloid newspaper Bild reported Tuesday. Claims for the so-called Hartz IV benefits - named after the commission chaired by Peter Hartz that introduced them in 2004 - have topped 300,000 for the first time, and most of the beneficiaries are from Eastern Europe and Italy, according to the tabloid. These break down into 80,403 unemployed workers from Poland, 66,458 Italians, 43,513 Greeks and 32,273 Bulgarians. April jobless claims rose 21.6% (+53.512) over the previous month, Bild said.

lunedì 11 agosto 2014

OECD says Italy entering 'positive' phrase of growth

Eurozone index stable but Germany may begin to weaken

(ANSA) - Paris, August 11 - Italy is entering a "positive" phase of economic growth of about 0.1%, and momentum is building across the eurozone, the OECD said Monday. Its report came only days after Italy's statistical agency said the country had slipped back into recession in the second quarter of this year, its third recession in five years. The Paris-based agency said that it saw signs of a "loss of momentum" in Germany but overall, the outlook for the 18 countries that use the common currency is positive. Outside of Europe, growth appears stable in the world's largest economy, the United States, but Japan could see an "interruption" in its expansion, said the OECD.

Russia and China are in line with long-term growth expectations, the agency said. Italy has been struggling to return to growth but received a blow with Istat reported last week that after slipping by 0.1% in the first three months of this year, gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by another 0.2% in the second quarter. 

Teatro Valle occupiers quit the theater, but don't go far

Activist artists want to run the theater jointly with the city

(ANSA) - Rome, August 11 - Theater artists and staff who three years ago occupied Rome's oldest theater to save it from privatization left the historic Teatro Valle on Monday but didn't go far, camping out in the foyer to keep up the pressure on city authorities to negotiate with them on the future of the beloved institution.

A former opera house built in 1726, the Valle was occupied by a group consisting of actors, musicians, directors, technicians, and creative staff in June 2011 amidst rumours that it was to be privatised and would lose its artistic independence. As part of sweeping budget cuts to the arts first carried out by the center-right administration of Silvio Berlusconi, the government had recently shut down the Ente teatrale italiano, a State organization to promote Italian theater which partially supported the Valle, leaving it unprotected. During the three years of its occupation, the Valle activists programmed an uninterrupted stream of free classes, seminars, film screenings, concerts, and plays by leading Italian and international artists.

The former occupiers have a list of demands they want to discuss with the city. These are for the theater to be a place to experiment with innovative models of cultural management, for the theater to be run by "a community of artists and theater workers, with the participation of citizens at large", and for the city and the Foundation to come up with a schedule of repairs and renovations together, "in order to keep the theater open to citizens as much as possible". The activists on Monday built a stage outside the theater they just quit, where they will carry on with their artistic work while waiting for the city to enter into talks on the future of the theater. 

Cuba to showcase its culture at Milan Expo 2015

Havana says it will promote itself as high-end tourist spot

(ANSA) - Milan, August 11 - Cuba says it will showcase its culture and promote its tourism at Milan Expo 2015. According to the island's Chamber of Commerce, Cuba will dedicate its pavilion to nutrition and the country's food production. "Expo can offer many opportunities for Cuba," said Italy's ambassador in Havana Carmine Robustelli. Havana's Chamber of Commerce hopes to use the world's fair to promote its food production potential in the wake of new legislation in Cuba facilitating foreign investment.

The 250-square-metre Cuban pavilion will be designed to seduce visitors with its culinary tradition while it "strengthens the island's image as a high end tourist destination". Agricultural biotechnology, biodiversity and art will also be among the major attractions of the pavilion. Milan Expo begins next May and continues through six months. 

Italy must apply reforms, up to Rome how, says EU

Commission responds to Renzi's FT interview

(ANSA) - Rome, August 11 - The European Commission said Monday that Italy needed "effectively implemented structural reforms... to create the conditions for growth and employment". A commission spokesperson said that the EC has given Rome recommendations on reforms that Italy has committed to, adding that the "implementation of the reforms is a question that regards the (member) State". The spokesperson was commenting on Italy's situation after Premier Matteo Renzi said in an interview with The Financial Times that it was up to his government to decide on the country's reform path, not the EC or the European Central Bank. 

Tavecchio elected new Italian soccer federation chief

71-year-old beat Albertini despite banana racism row

(ANSA) - Rome, August 11 - Carlo Tavecchio was elected the new president of the Italian Soccer Federation (FIGC) at an assembly in Rome on Monday despite having caused a huge racism row with his comments about "banana-eating" non-EU players. The 71-year-old prevailed in the third ballot with 63.3% of the votes. "I will be everyone's president, especially those who expressed their dissent," a tearful Tavecchio said upon hearing the news. "I will try to improve my rough and unglamorous ways, as someone once rightfully said". The head of Italy's amateur soccer leagues, Tavecchio had a majority of the votes of the FIGC delegates, despite opposition from many Serie A sides, including champions Juventus and fellow giants AS Roma.

Tavecchio sparked the racism storm last month when calling for tighter restrictions on non-EU players in Italian soccer. "In England, they identify the players coming in and, if they are professional, they are allowed to play," Tavecchio said. "Here, on the other hand, we get 'Opti Poba', who was eating bananas until recently and then suddenly becomes at starter with Lazio".

Italian soccer has a big problem with racism on the terraces, so many, including top players such as Roma and Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi, argued Tavecchio now lacks the credibility to fight this problem. A member of Premier Matteo Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) said last week that a petition calling on Tavecchio to drop his bid has attracted over 26,000 signatures. The banana comments hit the headlines worldwide and international soccer's governing body, FIFA, called on the FIGC to investigate them. But the support of the delegates from Italy's lower and amateur leagues was unmoved by the storm.

The FIGC top job is vacant after Giancarlo Abete quit following Italy's group-stage exit from the World Cup in June If elected, one of Tavecchio's first tasks will be to find a new national team coach after Cesare Prandelli - now at the helm of Istanbul side Galatasaray - quit on the same day as Abete. Overcoming the divisions that emerged during the FIGC presidential campaign to solve Italian soccer's many deep-rooted problems - including crowd violence, poor facilities and the declining international competitiveness of its clubs - will be more difficult. 

Laid-off Alitalia staff to get 'new jobs immediate

Union says don't forget 'human wounds' created by cuts

(ANSA) - Rome, August 11 - More than half of the Alitalia employees laid off under the airline's deal with Etihad Airways "will be relocated immediately" to new positions, says Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi. Of the 2,250 job cuts the Abu Dhabi-based demanded under the deal that will see it invest about 560 million euros for a 49% stake in Alitalia, 1,250 will be re-employed right away, said Lupi.

The agreement "is good news," said the minister, whose government had pressed hard for the deal that Lupi has said was essential to keeping the money-losing Italian carrier alive. Lupi said that of the 1,250 workers to be immediately employed, about 200 will be aircraft maintenance workers in Italy.

According to published reports, Alitalia staff who agree to resign must tell the airline by September 10 and will receive a 10,000 euros bonus. Some others will be employed by Etihad, as well as third-party companies and suppliers to the airlines. While the deal, which was formally signed Friday, will keep Alitalia in the air, it also offers Etihad a stronger foothold in Europe and access to lucrative routes. At the signing ceremony, Etihad Chief Executive Officer James Hogan said that the airline intends to invest as much as 1.758 billion euros in Alitalia over the coming years. "Our entry into Alitalia is to be partners," Hogan said after the pact was formally signed Friday by chief executive officers of the two airlines.

Lupi is also said to be working on an extension of a program that has assisted past Alitalia employees who were laid off and received redundancy payments. That program will expire in October 2015 and Lupi is reportedly working for an extension until 2018. The investment pact between Alitalia and Etihad was supported by most of the unions representing airline workers, and the lone holdout signed on the deal at the last moment. But remaining Alitalia workers are said to be concerned about their future, including fears they may be asked to transfer to work at Etihad's base in the United Arab Emirates.

Despite the good will surrounding the new deal at present, no one should forget the “human wounds" created by the layoffs as well as the "serious social repercussions", said the Secretary General of UGL union Geremia Mancini. Some workers took a bitter tone after hearing Hogan quip that he wants Alitalia to become "the sexiest airline in Europe". "Of course, we will be a more sexy company, (workers) are left with only their underwear," workers said.

Meanwhile, rumours continued to circulate about possible new leadership at Alitalia, with suggestions that Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, Ferrari's number one, could take the job of chairman but as a figurehead without daily operating authority. He has previously denied interest in the job. 

Renzi vows to respect EU rules as Moody's sees GDP dip

Italy won't be dictated to on reforms, Renzi tells the EU

(ANSA) - Rome, August 11 - Premier Matteo Renzi said Monday that Italy will not break the European Union's 3%-deficit-to-GDP limit even though his government's budget calculations have been hit by an economic slide back into recession. "I have absolutely no intention of breaking the 3% ceiling," Renzi said in an interview published Monday in the Financial Times. "We hope to have better [growth] figures in the second half and as a result will be at 2.9% [of GDP]. We will not break the 3% rule. It is…a matter of Italy's credibility and reputation, even if others do break it".

The premier went on to say that Italy is well aware it must undertake structural economic reforms, but that Rome will not have them imposed by the European Central Bank (ECB) or anyone else. His comments came after ECB President Mario Draghi said last week that uncertainly over reforms in Italy hampered foreign investment and was a big factor in the economy's poor performance.

Draghi's comments came after national statistics agency Istat announced Wednesday that the country has slipped into its third recession in five years as GDP dropped 0.2% in the second quarter after shrinking 0.1% in the first three months of the year. This means that the government's forecast of 0.8% growth this year - the basis for its budget calculations - is set to be off the mark. "I agree with Draghi when he says that Italy needs to implement reforms, but I will decide how we are going to go about them. Not the troika, not the ECB, not the European Commission," Renzi told the Financial Times. "I will undertake the reforms myself because Italy does not need anyone else explaining what to do". The troika is a committee made up of EC, the ECB and the International Monetary Fund that organises bailouts. Later on Monday, the EC replied through a spokesperson that while it has given a series of recommendations on reforms that Italy has committed to, "their implementation is a matter that regards the (member) State".

Also on Monday, Moody's ratings agency said it expects Italy's gross domestic product to drop by 0.1% in 2014, revising downward its previous forecast of 0.5% growth. The agency said Italy would not hit its target deficit-to-GDP ratio of 2.7% this year after the country returned to recession, adding that there is "significant risk" that the deficit will get worse.

Pope to bring message of peace to Asia during S Korea trip

Pope Francis will call for inter-Korean reconciliation during his trip to South Korea next week but is not expected to travel to the demilitarised zone, the Vatican says

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis travels to South Korea this week with a message of peace for the divided peninsula on his first papal visit to Asia, where the Catholic Church is undergoing dramatic growth. The 77-year-old will fly into Seoul on Wednesday in a trip also aimed at making up for his predecessor Benedict XVI never visiting Asia during his whole eight-year papacy.
Vatican watchers say Francis will address the whole continent on the seven-day trip where the number of Catholics, although only 3.2% of the population, is rocketing. With the Roman Catholic Church dogged by increasing secularism in the West, “it’s a chance for the pontiff to flash a thumbs-up to a region upon which Catholicism is increasingly reliant”, said Vatican expert John Allen, who writes for the Boston Globe. In January, the pope will return to Asia on a trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines—the region’s largest Catholic country—to nurture the burgeoning number of faithful and would-be clerics from China to India, Myanmar and Vietnam.
As a young man, Francis dreamed of becoming a missionary in Japan, where Catholics in the 18th and 19th centuries kept their faith alive without the help of priests, who had been expelled or murdered by the imperial government. In South Korea, he will preside over a beatification ceremony for 124 Korean martyrs and is expected to use his speech to warn of a recent escalation in anti-Christian persecution from Afghanistan to Iraq, Syria and Somalia.
In the last census to include religious affiliation in 2005, close to 30% of South Koreans identified themselves as Christian. The majority are Protestants, but Catholics are the fastest growing group with around 5.3 million adherents—just over 10% of the population. In North Korea, the Church is only allowed to operate within the confines of the state-controlled Korean Catholics Association (KCA). The country is repeatedly ranked worst for oppression of Christians by international watchdogs. The pope will hold a mass in Seoul’s cathedral for reconciliation between the two Koreas which remain technically at war because the 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty.
Seoul’s Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, who crossed into North Korea for a historic one-day visit in May, said he hoped Francis would bring about “a great miracle” for dialogue between Korea’s Communist and capitalist halves. Reports that the pope may pray at the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas—in an echo of his impromptu stop at Israel’s separation wall during a trip to Bethlehem earlier this year—were ruled out by the Vatican. However, spokesman Federico Lombardi said “the pope is always capable of surprises”. Religious watchers have also speculated that Francis might take the chance to travel on to Beijing in a bid to ease a bitter feud between the Church and China’s Communist regime, which has its own state-controlled Catholic Church.
During the visit to South Korea, the first by a pope, he will meet relatives of the victims of the Sewol ferry, which sank in April with the loss of some 300 lives—most of them children. He will also meet Korean women forced into sex slavery for Japanese troops during World War II, invited by organizers to attend the pope’s August 18 mass.
The pontiff, a champion of the weak and downtrodden, will visit a center for the handicapped and is also expected to reach out to those left behind by the country’s rapid economic growth, repeating his famous call for “a poor church for the poor”. “The Korean Church is learning to pay attention to the poor, but today there is still a risk of it coming across as a church of the rich, for the rich,” Vincenzo Bordo, a lay missionary in South Korea, told the Vatican Insider website. Many hope that the pope’s visit will act as an impetus” for change, he said.

domenica 10 agosto 2014

Sicily's Stromboli erupts as tourists watch from boats

Volcano under 24-hour watch, activity there suspended

(ANSA) - Palermo, August 8 - Sicily's famous Stromboli volcano was on a 24-hour watch Friday after an eruption caused a major lava flow that suspended all hiking activity on its slopes. Thousands of tourists watched from boats as the volcano erupted on Thursday, releasing an abundant lava flow that covered an area of 600 meters. A new crater opened in the Sciara del Fuoco region, on the northeastern side of the volcano at approximately 650 meters, official said.

The Volcano Risk Center of the Department of Protection called the eruption an "elevated critical situation" and asked the National Geophysical and Volcano Institute and the University of Florence to increase supervision and on-site personnel. Stromboli mayor Marco Giorganni suspended all hiking activity on the volcano. 

People's Bank of China buys shares in Italy's Generali

Latest purchase in Italian shopping spree by Chinese bank

(ANSA) - Milan, August 8 - The People's Bank of China, the Asian giant's central bank, has taken a 2.014% stake in one of Italy's largest insurance companies Generali, national financial market regulator Consob said Friday.

It's the latest in a string of strategic purchases by the Chinese central bank in major Italian firms. In recent months, the bank has bought up shares in Torino-based automaker Fiat, Telecom Italia, cable-maker Prysmian, and energy majors Eni and Enel. 

Large ships banned from Venice St Mark's basin

Giant cruise liners blamed for endangering fragile buildings

(ANSA) - Rome, August 8 - Veneto Governor Luca Zaia on Friday said ships above 40,000 tonnes will be banned from Saint Mark's basin and the Giudecca Canal in Venice. It was a "unanimous decision" by an interministerial committee to save Venice and its lagoon, the governor tweeted. In addition to the risk of collision, cruise ships have long been blamed for blowing corrosive smog onto Venice's medieval buildings, whose fragile foundations are weakened by the massive vibrations big liners put off. Other experts warn that the thousand-year-old wooden piles that prop up the city underwater would crumble like toothpicks under the weight of a 114,500-ton cruise ship like the Costa Concordia.

In addition, liners ushering tourists into the heart of the city disrupt the extremely fragile foundation of Venice and its medieval monuments by displacing massive amounts of water in the shallow lagoon, while environmentalists warn that the lagoon surrounding Venice, itself a UNESCO heritage site, is at great risk due to its fragile ecosystem. Over 650 cruise ships currently pass through the city annually. Last November the government of ex-premier Enrico Letta ordered a halt to large cruise ships passing through the Venice lagoon, effective from November 2014, and a limit on smaller cruise vessels effective in January.

The regulation came in response to the crash of the Costa Concordia cruise ship in early 2012, which killed 32 people off the coast of Tuscany. However a regional court suspended the ban in Venice, where the cruise industry is key to the local economy, prompting Italy's leading environmental group Legambiente to accuse the court of recklessness. Similar regulations had been imposed earlier throughout the rest of Italy, where the cruise industry plays a smaller role in the local economy. In April this year, cruise lines vowed their biggest ships would give Venice a wide berth from November 30 after the long-running row about their effect on the delicate lagoon city. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) made the vow after a meeting with Italian culture, environment and transport ministers. 

Etihad CEO says deal will make Alitalia 'more secure'

Tie-up between carriers aimed at expanding routes

(ANSA) - Rome, August 8 - After months of intense negotiations, Friday's deal that will see Etihad Airways take a 49% stake in money-losing Alitalia will help to make the Italian carrier more secure, said Etihad Chief Executive Officer James Hogan. Abu Dhabi-based Etihad will invest an estimated 560 million euros in struggling Alitalia in a deal that is expected to keep the Italian carrier alive while providing Etihad with greater access to lucrative routes in Europe.

Hogan also pledged to invest as much as 1.758 billion euros in restructuring the Italian carrier over the coming years, adding he expects Alitalia should be profitable by 2017. "Our entry into Alitalia is to be partners," Hogan said after the pact was formally signed Friday by chief executive officers of the two airlines. "There will be a secure future," added Hogan. "We will work together to make something that people can be proud of". The deal was inked followed the 11th-hour elimination of final stumbling blocks in the aviation tie-up including a labour offer that led the only major trade union opposed to the deal to drop its opposition. Then, Alitalia shareholders approved a 300-million euro capital increase essential to smooth the transition until the tie-up is fully implemented.

The deal is an "excellent outcome," said Gabriele Del Torchio, Alitalia's chief executive officer. Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi has said the deal with Etihad was essential to keep Alitalia alive. Friday, he sounded triumphant. "We did it, we have believed for eight months in this deal, in the face of those who did not believe it," said Lupi. Regulatory hurdles still lie ahead.

The deal must now be approved by European regulators who will be checking closely for possible State aid, which has been alleged in the past by air industry competitors. The large stake to be taken by Etihad had triggered concerns with the European Commission, which warned Italian authorities to ensure the United Arab Emirates-owned carrier does not gain a majority holding in Alitalia. EC rules require that majority ownership of European airlines remain in European hands, and the Italian government has reassured the EC that those rules were being obeyed. Hogan said he had high hopes for Alitalia's future. "To me, the sexiest airline in Europe should be Alitalia". 

Ebola mobile lab to be sent from Italy to Sierra Leone

Part of EU initiative to fight deadly disease

(ANSA) - Rome, August 8 - The European Union is sending a mobile laboratory from Italy to combat the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, officials said on Friday. The lab, originally intended for Tanzania, is at Rome's Spallanzani Institute. It will be responsible for analyzing samples in suspected Ebola cases, and will coordinate with a Guinea-based mobile laboratory, also run by Spallanzani.

On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of Ebola in west Africa an international health emergency. It reported that 932 people have died in West Africa since early cases in December 2013, and more than 1,700 Ebola cases have been reported in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

According to Spallanzani's scientific Director Giuseppe Ippolito, the WHO's decision to raise the alarm on Ebola was expected. "The declaration of a public international health emergency, on one hand, helps to give WHO greater coordinating authority and on the other hand, (allows it) to ask for additional funding from the international community," Ippolito said.

The Ebola virus is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids or tissues of infected animals or people, and has a fatality rate of up to 90%. At present, there is no vaccine. 

Court turns down biological parents in child custody suit

Twins born after embryo mix-up in Rome fertility clinic

(ANSA) - Rome, August 8 - A civil court on Friday turned down a child custody suit filed by the biological parents of twins born in an assisted fertility case where embryos were mixed up in a Rome hospital last December. "The case cannot be appealed to the (supreme) Constitutional Court," the judges wrote in their 16-page opinion.

The babies, a boy and a girl, were born August 3 in the city of L'Aquila. In an interview with La Stampa newspaper, the birth parents said they want to keep the babies even though in biological terms, the twins belong to another set of parents. "We are happy, very happy. Our children are born and they're well," the birth mother told the newspaper, adding that the births have already been officially registered with authorities. "No one can take them away," she added. But the biological parents asked the civil court to act quickly in awarding them custody of the babies, who were delivered more than one week earlier than expected by caesarean section, according to the newspaper report.

The biological parents were quoted as saying they have asked to meet the birth parents, but so far haven't had a reply. "We recognize their suffering and this makes us feel badly," the biological parents were quoted as saying. "We need peace, we have already suffered a lot in recent months, for us it's finally time to be a family," the biological parents told the newspaper.

Michele Ambrosini, lawyer for the birth parents, said that as far as he knows, the mother and babies are doing well. In late July, Italian prosecutors concluded that the embryo mix-up that occurred in December 2013 at Sandro Pertini Hospital in Rome was not a felony and asked that a criminal case in the affair be dropped.

A complaint had been filed in April 2014 to prosecutors by one of the couples involved in the case. Police have said the embryos were mixed up because the surnames of the two couples involved were very similar. Following the discovery of the mix-up in April, the assisted-fertility clinic at Pertini hospital implemented new procedures to prevent such errors from repeating, including assigning each patient an ID code and treating no more than three aspiring mothers on the same day. 

Renzi triumphant after Senate reform victory

'No one can stop change' says premier via @matteorenzi account

(ANSA) - Rome, August 8 - The government's controversial Constitutional reform bill, including a revamp of the Senate, completed its first reading in the Upper House on Friday when the floor of the assembly voted to back it. "It will take time, it will be difficult and there will be setbacks," Renzi said via his Twitter account, @matteorenzi, after Friday's vote. "But no one can stop the change that started today". The bill passes to the Lower House after clearing the Senate with 183 votes in favour, four abstentions and no votes against, after parties opposed to the package snubbed the final vote.

Renzi says the bill will overhaul Italy's slow, costly political machinery, responding to dissatisfaction at the ruling class's ineffectiveness in solving the country's economic woes, in fighting corruption and in curbing its many privileges. The central part of the package is the transformation of the Senate into a leaner assembly of local government representatives with minimal lawmaking powers. At the moment the Senate and the Lower House are equally powerful and every piece of legislation has to be approved in both, which can make it difficult for governments to get laws through parliament. The revamped Senate's responsibilities are to be largely restricted to Constitutional matters and its members will not get extra salaries on top of their earnings for the local level jobs.

The new Senate will be made up of 100 members, compared to the present figure of 315, of which five will be life Senators. It also takes some powers from Italy's regional governments, many of which have been guilty of overspending in recent years, and completes the elimination of a whole layer of government - Italy's provinces. Furthermore, it says regions that do not keep their balance sheets in order can be put in the hands of commissioners appointed by central government.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S), the leftwing SEL and the anti-migrant Northern League all walked out on Friday's final vote for the first reading. Of those who did not back up the government in the final vote, 16 were dissidents from within Renzi's centre-left Democratic Party (PD), with 14 not taking part in the vote at all and two abstaining. There were also 19 rebels from within Silvio Berlusconi's opposition centre-right Forza Italia (FI), which is backing the bill after the ex-premier struck a deal with Renzi on the reforms and on a new election law.

In addition, there were 10 dissidents from within junior partners in Renzi's ruling coalition - eight from the New Centre Right (NCD) party and two from the For Italy (PPI) group. The M5S and SEL put up staunch resistance to the bill, using filibustering and the presentation of some 7,400 amendments in a vain attempt to slow its progress down. In spite of this, the government achieved what seemed an impossible feat just one week ago - getting the first reading completed before parliament's summer recess begins on Saturday. In order to become law, the bill still needs to complete at least two more readings in both houses of parliament. Renzi has said it will then need to be ratified by a referendum.