Ethnic tension flares in Italy

ROME — Bloody clashes between African migrants and residents in one of Italy's poorest regions over the past few days brought home a national dilemma Saturday: Many Italians don't want to pick crops in the south or toil in the north's factories, but resent the desperate foreigners who will work for a pittance.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi last year dismissed any notion of a "multiethnic Italy." His conservative coalition, which includes the anti-immigrant Northern League party, has repeatedly cracked down on illegal immigration, sometimes drawing the ire of human rights advocates, U.N. officials and the Vatican.

With opinion surveys showing that many Italians blame immigrants for crime, tensions persist between citizens and foreigners — and sometimes erupt into violence, as they did these past days in Rosarno, a town in Calabria, an underdeveloped southern agricultural region with chronic unemployment.

At least 38 people were injured in the violence, which began Thursday night when two migrants were shot with a pellet gun in an attack the migrants blamed on racism. Violence continued Friday with clashes involving Africans, Rosarno residents and police. Among the more seriously injured were three migrants beaten with metal rods.

By Saturday, the violence had largely subsided, except for a pellet-gun shooting that wounded a migrant on the outskirts of town, police said, and authorities began busing out some of the hundreds of frightened and angry migrants.

Others, lugging shabby suitcases or tossing duffel bags over shoulders, headed for train stations or left in cars if they could arrange rides, said Laura Boldrini, an official from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Italy.

"Even if they haven't collected their pay, they prefer to lose the money. That gives the measure of their fear," Boldrini said in a telephone interview from Rosarno.

Perhaps half the 1,000 or so migrants — from Ghana, Nigeria and other African nations — chose to stay for now, many sleeping in tents or cardboard "rooms" in a dilapidated, abandoned former cheese factory on the outskirts of town.