Italy: Police officers shot as premier sworn in

A JOBLESS bricklayer shot two Italian policemen in a crowded square outside the premier’s office yesterday just as the nation’s new government was being sworn in.

A policeman receives assistance after being shot in Rome. Picture: Getty

• Man shot two policemen as Itlain premier Enrico Letta sworn into office

• Prosecutors describe suspect as “full of problems”

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THE gunman’s intended target was politicians, a senior Italian security official said after interviewing the attacker.

Mired in recession and suffering from soaring unemployment, Italy has been in political paralysis since an inconclusive February election. Social and political tensions have been running high among voters divided between centre-left, conservative and anti-government political parties.

Yesterday was supposed to be a hopeful day when debt-ridden Italy finally acquired a new government to solve its many problems. But shots rang out in Colonna Square near a busy shopping area shortly after 11:30 am just as new premier Enrico Letta and his new ministers were taking their oaths at the Quirinal presidential office about half a mile away.

The suspected gunman, dressed in a dark business suit, was immediately grabbed by other police outside Chigi Palace, which houses the premier’s office and other government offices.

Rome Prosecutor Pierfilippo Laviani told reporters he had questioned the alleged assailant, who was taken to a hospital with bruises after being wrestled to the ground. He identified the man as Luigi Preiti, 49, from Calabria, a southern agricultural area plagued by organised crime and chronic unemployment.

Mr Laviani said Preiti had “confessed everything” and didn’t appear mentally unbalanced. He is a man full of problems, who lost his job, who lost everything,” the prosecutor said. “He was desperate. In general, he wanted to shoot at politicians, but given that he couldn’t reach any, he shot at the Carabinieri.”

One of the policemen, shot in the neck, was in critical condition. The other, shot in the leg, suffered a fracture, doctors said.

The shooting “was the tragic gesture of a 49-year-old unemployed man,” interior minister Angelino Alfano told reporters after briefing Mr Letta and his cabinet.

A woman passing by during the shooting was also slightly injured. It was unclear if she was grazed by a bullet or hurt in the panic sparked by the gunfire.

The 46-year-old Mr Letta had nailed down a coalition deal only a day ago between two bitter political enemies – his centre-left forces and the conservative bloc of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Mr Letta will speak to parliament today, laying out his strategy to reduce unemployment while still sticking to the austerity measures needed to keep the eurozone’s third largest economy from descending into a sovereign debt crisis. He will then face confidence votes.

A video surveillance camera on the parliament building caught the attacker on film just before and during the shooting, Italian news reports said.

He was walking at a steady pace along a narrow street that leads from the square outside parliament’s lower house to the square outside the premier’s office, when police officers appear to have stopped him to ask where he was going.

Shortly after police approached him, he began firing, according to the surveillance camera.

Mr Alfano said the alleged gunman wanted to kill himself after the shooting but ran out of bullets. He said six shots were fired in all. The gunman used a semi-automatic pistol whose serial number had been filed off.

The interior minister said security was immediately stepped up near key venues in the Italian capital, but added authorities were not worried about possible related attacks.

“Our initial investigation indicates the incident is due to an isolated gesture, although further investigations are being carried out,” he said.

Doctors at Rome’s Umberto I Polyclinic said a 50-year-old Carabinieri brigadier had been hit in the neck by a bullet that damaged his spinal column and was lodged near his shoulder.

The head of St John’s Hospital, Gianluigi Bracciale, said the second officer suffered a broken leg from a gunshot. He said Prieti didn’t appear to have any injuries other than bruises.

Preiti’s uncle said the alleged gunman had moved back to his parents’ home in Calabria because he could no longer find work as a bricklayer. “He was a great worker. He could build a house from top to bottom,” said the uncle, Domenco Preiti. The shooting sparked ugly memories of the 1970s and 1980s in Italy, when domestic terrorism plagued the country during a time of high political tensions between right-wing and left-wing groupings.

The new cabinet ministers were seen smiling in a group photo as news of the shooting broke.

“The news arrived after the swearing-in,” said Dario Franceschini, one of the new ministers.