SOLDIERS are to be deployed in Italian cities as Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister, cracks down on crime as part of his government's new domestic security package.
The troops – drawn from those who have served abroad – will patrol alongside regular state police and carabinieri paramilitary police.
They will be able to stop, search and identify suspects but will have no powers of arrest. Instead they must call for support or take suspects to the nearest police station.
Defence minister Ignazio La Russa said: "We are talking about a contingent of 2,500 troops who will patrol, alongside ordinary police, in order to safeguard the security of citizens.
"The scheme will be initially for six months and then renewed for another six months as a one-off and that will be it.
"If it was possible to recruit and train 2,500 police officers immediately then I would be delighted not to use troops."
Opposition MPs and police unions did not share his enthusiasm with Antonio Di Pietro, of the Party of Values, saying: "Troops on the streets are only seen in places like Colombia against terrorists and armed insurrectionists. The idea of militarising cities gives an impression of insecurity and will affect tourism and the economy."
Mr Berlusconi came back to power two months ago after campaigning on a strong law and order manifesto.
The cities earmarked for troop patrols are Rome, Milan, Naples, Florence, Genoa, Bologna, Turin, Palermo, Bari and Venice.