The Italian government has given local authorities the power to expel European Union citizens who pose a threat to public security. The government action follows the rape and murder of an Italian woman by a Romanian national near a gypsy camp in Rome. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

Italian authorities say Giovanna Reggiani, 47, died Thursday night. The wife of an Italian naval commander, she was attacked late Tuesday in Rome as she walked along a road toward the barracks where she lived. Police say she was beaten, dragged through mud and left half naked in a ditch.

An officer said the police were alerted by a bus driver who had been told of the crime by an eyewitness. He said the bus driver was able to give the location of the woman's body underneath a bridge.

Police arrested Romanian Nicolae Mailat, 24, and charged him with the crime. Mailat lives in one of several sprawling settlements on the outskirts of Rome where thousands of foreigners - some legal and some not - live in make-shift shelters or trailers.

Italy has been rocked by a series of recent crimes attributed to mostly Romanian immigrants. The latest incident prompted the government to hold an extraordinary cabinet meeting Wednesday night. The cabinet approved a measure allowing the expulsion of European Union citizens for what it called "reasons of public safety" and to fight "episodes of heavy violence and ferocious crime."

Officials in Brussels said the Italian government appeared to be within the terms of a European directive that allows member states to expel citizens of other EU countries if they are a threat to public health, public security, or have insufficient means. But, the decree does not include the final provision.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said the new measure was not the government acting out of rage, but evidence that it is determined to keep a high and just level of security for citizens. Mr. Prodi said the government will continue to be vigilant and make sure that these violent acts do not repeat themselves.

The free movement of EU citizens within the bloc's 27 member nations is a cornerstone of EU policy. Italy has faced a large influx of Romanians since the country's accession to the European Union this year. Authorities say over 1,000 Romanian immigrants arrive in Italy each month.

They also say Romanians have been accused of committing 76 murders since June last year. Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni says 75 percent of arrests for murder, rape and robbery in the city this year are attributed to Romanians.

The Romanian prime minister has responded by sending police liaison officers to major Italian cities to help. Following the latest incident there are plans to step up security and police coordination efforts between Italy and Romania.