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Italy Cracks Down on Sexual Violence and Illegal Immigration


Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government on Friday approved tougher measures to crack down on sexual violence and illegal immigration.

The Prime Minister issued an emergency decree at a cabinet meeting Friday in response to a series of rapes blamed mostly on foreigners.

The rapes in the last weeks have shocked Italy. Two Romanians were arrested for the rape of a 14-year-old girl on Valentine's Day.

The newly approved government package, which must be approved by parliament, increases jail sentences for rape, gives free legal counsel to victims of sexual violence and makes stalking a crime.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said mayors have also been allowed to organize patrols of unarmed citizens so that they can point out to police forces where there are risks for urban security or situations of social degradation.

The government says the aim of such patrols, which have drawn criticism from the center-left opposition, is to boost security on city streets.

The opposition says the government is promoting vigilante justice but Maroni Friday defended the measure, saying that setting up organized groups of volunteers would avoid the creation of "do-it-yourself" patrols seeking to take matters into their own hands.

The decree also allows authorities to detain immigrants for six months, up from two months, while they work to identify them, process asylum requests and expel those not entitled to stay.

Romania's foreign minister Cristian Diaconescu said, meanwhile, that his country does not want citizens suspected of committing crimes in Italy to be repatriated.

The minister said Romania would like to overcome this abnormal situation through dialogue and cooperation with its Italian partners in the near future.

Diaconescu is expected to travel to Italy on Monday, where he plans to discuss the issue with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. Some one million Romanians are estimated to live and work in Italy.

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