Venice's Grand Canal 'stolen' by the Romans

Venetians woke up yesterday to find that one of the symbols of their world famous lagoon city - the Grand Canal - had been stolen, or "snatched" as several newspaper headlines put it.

A new national law intended to get rid of old, out-of-date provisions that have been on the books since Italy was a monarchy transferred ownership of the canal from the city to the national government.

Worse still, it was part of a package promoted by Roberto Calderoli - whose title is simplification minister -- even though the provision left many Venetians scratching their heads. Mr Calderoli is a key member of the Northern League party, whose federalist battle cry is that the central government in Rome must give power back to regions.

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In fact, the League's mantra is "Roma Ladrona," (Rome the big thief).

The provision abolished a 107- year-old decree by King Victor Emmanuel III transferring ownership of the 4,000-metre long canal to Venice.

But Mr Calderoli said that it would all be sorted out and ownership of the canal, flanked by some of the world's greatest architecture and plied by gondolas, would be returned.