Rome – Riot police clashed with hundreds of Tunisian immigrants on Wednesday during a protest against conditions at a reception centre on the tiny island of Lampedusa, Italian media said.
Police with shields and batons herded the immigrants into the corner of a raised terrace and beat them, forcing many to drop four metres into a courtyard to escape the blows, according to images published by SKY TG 24 television.
Three officers and a dozen protesters were hurt, ANSA news agency said.
Angry Lampedusa residents surrounded the town hall, calling on mayor Bernardino De Rubeis to take a stronger line against the migrants.
“I have to defend myself and am ready to use it,” De Rubeis said, showing journalists a baseball bat stashed in the desk drawer in his office.
“It’s like a war zone,” he added, calling on the state to “immediately send helicopters and ships to evacuate the Tunisians”.
Tension has been growing on the southern Italian island over the past few days, with more than 1 000 Tunisian migrants who face repatriation under an agreement with Tunis clamouring to be taken to the mainland.
The UN refugee agency and several charities expressed their disappointment in the Italian government’s handling of the situation after protests at the island’s crowded reception centre climaxed on Tuesday with a devastating fire.
The tension continued unabated on Wednesday morning, as 300 immigrants marched through the streets of Lampedusa, crying out “Freedom! Freedom!”
More than 48 000 people have arrived in southern Italy from Tunisia and Libya since the start of the year.
It is not the first time that the reception centre has been the scene of immigrant protests over cramped conditions or lengthy waiting times to be transferred to other reception centres on the mainland. – Sapa-AFP