Italy: government collapses over Afghan deployment; protesters pledge to resist US base expansion

Prime Minister Romano Prodi resigned Feb. 21 after his center-left government failed to get the necessary majority of 160 Senate votes to extend Italy’s Afghanistan mission. Both Prodi and Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema lobbied for the extension, but fell short by two votes because of opposition from the left within the government coalition. Some 1,900 Italian soldiers are currently stationed in Afghanistan. (UPI, Feb. 21)

Meanwhile, some 100,000 protesters marched against plans to expand the US military base at Vicenza Feb. 17, with amny pledging physical resistance. “If no one will listen to us and the bulldozers arrive, we will put ourselves before them to block them,” said protest leader Cinzia Bottene. One of Prodi’s own ministers, Paolo Ferrero, who holds the Social Affairs portfolio, called for a referendum on the issue. Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who leads the right opposition, responded by accusing the government of capitulation. “Anti-American feelings now dictate the government’s policies,” Berlusconi, a staunch US ally, told Il Mattino newspaper. (Reuters, Feb. 20)

Yet many hand-painted banners at the protest read “Prodi Vergogna” (“Shame on You, Prodi”). The demonstration was entirely peaceful, despite media-hyped fears of terrorism. Sewer covers had been welded shut in the city centre of Vicenza, thousands of police and Carabinieri were mobilised, and police helicopters circled continuously overhead. Among the speakers was playwright and Nobel laureate Dario Fo, who performed a short piece with his wife Franca Rame and others. Fo explained to the press that he was opposed to any such military base, whether it be Italian or American. He warned that the presence of the US base could make Vicenza a possible target in any military conflict.

Prodi explicitly confirmed the decision made by his predecessor Berlusconi at the start of the year and gave official approval for the expansion of the base. The development of the Ederle barracks and the Dal Molin military airport at Vicenza is of growing importance for the US military. More US soldiers are currently on Italian soil than at any other time since the end of the Cold War. Vicenza is to be expanded by the year 2010 to become the most important European base for US deployments in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The base is to house the entire 173rd US Air Brigade, whose units are currently divided between the German bases of Bamberg and Schweinfurt. The 173rd Brigade participated in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and is active in Afghanistan. (World Socialist Web Site, Feb. 22)

See our last posts on Italy, Afghanistan, and Italy in Afghanistan.