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UN Wants Italy to Host Food Summit, Despite Security Concerns - 2001-08-07

The United Nations says it still plans to hold a world food summit in Rome, despite fears it may lead to a repeat of riots that marred the Group of Eight summit last month in Genoa. The Italian government may not want to host any more summits after the Genoa violence.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has indicated informally that he does not want to host the world food summit and would prefer the meeting be moved to an African capital, like Nairobi or Dakar.

His government is still reeling from the outcry over the Genoa riots and charges that police overreacted and beat even peaceful demonstrators. Italian diplomats say the government does not want to see another wave of violence unleashed in Rome.

But Mr. Berlusconi's position has met strong opposition from anti-globalization groups, the mayor of Rome, and the United Nations.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which has its headquarters in Rome, has invited the heads of state of 192 countries to a special conference on world hunger in November 5-9. It says moving the summit elsewhere at this late date would be enormously costly and difficult.

Besides, it says it has not received any formal request from the Italian government to change the venue.

The anti-globalization movement that disrupted the Genoa summit and other international conferences during the past two years has not announced plans to demonstrate at the world food summit. Vittorio Agnoletto, the spokesman for the umbrella group of protest organizations that were present in Genoa, says the FAO does not have the same problem of legitimacy that the G8 does because many of its members are poor countries.

Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, a political opponent of Mr. Berlusconi, says the Prime Minister's suggestion that the meeting be moved because of security concerns is wrong. Mr. Veltroni says it is the duty of the Italian government to guarantee the security of its people.

Another mayor, Naples' Rosa Russo Jervolino, has taken a different line towards a meeting of NATO defense ministers that is scheduled to be held in her city next month. Ms. Russo Jervolino told the Rome daily newspaper La Repubblica that the climate in Italy is too tense for such a meeting, which is expected to discuss a controversial U.S. plan for a missile defense system.

After a radical Italian anti-globalization group announced plans to disrupt the defense ministers' conference, the mayor asked the Italian government to postpone it. But Defense Minister Antonio Martino dismissed that idea, saying Italy cannot afford to tell its allies that it is unable to host such a meeting.