NAPLES, Italy – Italian police arrested five people on Tuesday after violent overnight protests against a new waste dump intended to ease long-running problems with rubbish disposal in the city of Naples.
A number of garbage trucks were torched and protesters threw firecrackers at police trying to clear the road of barricades on streets leading to a waste treatment centre at Terzigno, which stands at the foot of Mount Vesuvius outside Naples.
The overnight clashes were the latest episode in a chronic scandal over garbage collection in the region which has resurfaced in recent weeks, prompting growing calls for action from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Organised crime interests have been deeply entwined with rubbish collection in Naples for many years but the problem has been compounded by inefficiency, political opportunism and cheap, sometimes shady business operators.
Local people complain of foul smells and possible health risks from toxic waste at the Terzigno site, which authorities say is needed to handle the mountains of rubbish produced in Naples every day.
Plans to open a new dump nearby have rekindled protests, forcing garbage trucks to operate under police protection in recent weeks after a number were attacked by firebombs.
Hundreds of tonnes of refuse lie uncollected on the streets in the area around the southern city, Italy’s third biggest, with the Terzigno site blocked by protestors and an incinerator facility operating at reduced capacity.
The mayor of Naples, Rosa Russo Iervolino has appealed for help from the central government in dealing with the crisis, saying there is not only a risk to public health but also a threat to public order.
Police said the five people arrested on Friday were accused of violence against police and resisting arrest and one was found in possession of explosives.
Local authorities say a dispute with a waste contractor has worsened the recent problems, which recall the even more serious Naples garbage crisis of 2008.
That crisis forced Berlusconi’s then newly elected government to declare a natural disaster but it later boasted that it had resolved the emergency and cleared Naples’ streets.