Americans accused of Rome murder reacted with tears, disbelief: prosecutor

Regent Prosecutor Michele Prestipino attends a news conference after the killing of Carabinieri military police officer Mario Cerciello Rega in Rome, Italy July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca

By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) – An American teenager accused of stabbing an Italian policeman to death last week began to weep, and his alleged accomplice voiced disbelief, when told after their arrest that the officer had died of his wounds, a prosecutor said on Tuesday.

Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, is accused of killing the policeman in central Rome with an 18-cm (7-inch) blade in an incident that shocked Italians and raised questions over both the motive for the attack and police interrogation methods.

Elder and fellow student Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 18, were arrested on Saturday on suspicion of murdering Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, after the policeman intervened in a dispute that began over a drug deal involving the pair, police say.

The court-appointed lawyers for the American pair could not be reached for comment. The Elder family said in a statement on Tuesday it had not spoken to him since his arrest on Saturday.

“The situation is fluid. Finn’s parents are coping,” the statement said.

Police say Cerciello Rega, unarmed and in plain clothes, was attacked by Elder in the early morning of Friday in an affluent Rome neighborhood as he was trying to arrest him and Natale-Hjorth on suspicion of stealing a backpack.

The policeman and another officer, who was allegedly injured in the incident by Natale-Hjorth, had been called to the scene after the pair allegedly stole the backpack from a drug-dealer who they believed had cheated them, said Francesco Gargaro, head of the capital’s Carabinieri police force.

Prosecutor Nunzia D’Elia told a news conference on Tuesday that Natale-Hjorth, had reacted with disbelief when told of the policeman’s death, saying “Really dead? Dead dead?”

In an order for the pair to be held in jail pending investigation, a judge said the Americans had told investigators they had not been aware that Cerciello Rega was a policeman.

However, police chief Gargaro said on Tuesday that Cerciello Rega and his colleague had clearly identified themselves as police to the pair before the attack.

Police have also begun an investigation into the pair’s interrogation after a photo emerged of Natale-Hjorth in police custody, sitting blindfolded, hands cuffed behind his back.

Natale-Hjorth and Elder, both from San Francisco, were likely to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol when they were arrested on Saturday but were judged fit to be questioned, prosecutor D’Elia said.

She and Gargaro declined to comment on the inquiry into the interrogation.

Rome’s public attorney office said the investigation into the stabbing was still ongoing.

An Italian lawyer for Elder, Francesco Codini, told the New York Times that the two men had asserted their right to remain silent during a court hearing in Rome on Saturday afternoon.

(Additional reporting by Domenico Lusi, Writing by Juliette Jabkhiro, Editing by Mark Bendeich)

Ivanka Trump meets human trafficking victims in Rome

Ivanka Trump attends a meeting at the Sant' Egidio Christian community in Rome, Italy, May 24, 2017. REUTERS/Yara Nardi

By Isla Binnie

ROME (Reuters) – Ivanka Trump spoke with African women who were trafficked into prostitution and discussed ways to tackle the problem at a meeting on Wednesday in Rome that she described as a “privilege”.

The daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump, who as a White House adviser is seen as having increasing influence, met the women while accompanying her father on his first foreign trip.

On her way to the closed-door encounter, Trump said she was looking forward to hearing how the 11 women, originally from Nigeria and the Horn of Africa, had rebuilt their lives.

“(They) are testament to strength, faith, perseverance in the face of unspeakable adversity and challenge,” she said in a leafy courtyard at the headquarters of the Sant’Egidio Christian charity and peace group, which hosted the meeting.

The 35-year-old, who hosted a discussion on human trafficking last week at the White House, spoke for around 45 minutes with the women, some of whom now live under protection from the Italian judiciary after reporting their traffickers to authorities.

“She asked what could be done at the level of government and legislation, and how it would be possible to block human trafficking, particularly regarding women,” said Daniela Pompei, who is in charge of Sant’Egidio’s services for immigrants.

The number of Nigerian women brought to Italy among the migrants rescued from flimsy boats launched by smugglers into the Mediterranean has increased almost eight-fold in the past three years, Sant’Egidio estimates.

At least 80 percent of the almost 1,600 who arrived in the first three months of 2017 are destined to be forced into prostitution, the group says.

Representatives of Sant’Egidio, which has organized the transfer of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to Italy, also held a separate meeting with Trump at which they discussed how to inform would-be migrants before they left Africa of the risks of trafficking.

Along with her father and stepmother Melania, Trump met Pope Francis on Wednesday morning, and Pompei said she told the trafficking victims the pontiff was “a great advocate for your stories”.

(editing by John Stonestreet)

Italian farmers bring sheep to Rome to protest quake response

A sheep is seen in front of the Montecitorio Palace during a protest held by farmers from the earthquake zones of Amatrice, in Rome, Italy March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi

ROME (Reuters) – Italian farmers from regions ravaged by earthquakes brought sheep to central Rome on Tuesday to protest what they say are serious delays in reconstruction efforts.

More than 10,000 farm animals have been killed or injured by quake damage and subsequent freezing weather, farmers’ association Coldiretti said.

Outside parliament, a makeshift paddock housed three sheep rescued from areas struck by tremors while farmers waved flags and banners reading “Bureaucracy is more deadly than earthquakes”.

Thousands of farming businesses are housed in the central regions of Lazio, Marche, Abruzzo and Umbria where tremors have rumbled since August.

Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has approved a draft law to help people affected by the quakes, including 35 million euros ($37 million) to compensate farmers for lost income.

The law also aims to make it easier for regional governments to buy temporary stalls. Farmers say about 85 percent of their livestock need shelter.

“Breeders still don’t know where to put their surviving cows, pigs and sheep, which are either stuck out in the cold, at risk of death and disease, or in derelict buildings,” the farm association said.

Stress caused by cold and fear has reduced milk production in the region by 30 percent. Local crops like lentils are also at risk as seeds cannot be sown on fractured land, it added.

The agriculture ministry said the process of releasing emergency funds to farmers was under way.

($1 = 0.9458 euros)

(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Julia Glover)

Stop hurling insults and listen, Pope Francis tells politicians

Pope Francis

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) – Politicians should lower the volume of their debates and stop insulting each other, Pope Francis said on Friday, adding that leaders should be open to dialogue with perceived enemies or risk sowing the seeds of war.

“Insulting has become normal,” he said in a 45-minute-long improvised talk to university students in Rome. “We need to lower the volume a bit and we need to talk less and listen more.”

Francis, the son of Italian migrants to Argentina, also warned against anti-immigrant movements and urged that newcomers be treated “as human brothers and sisters”.

While the pope spoke mostly in general terms about the need for more dialogue in society as he answered questions from four students at the Roma Tre campus, he singled out politicians.

“In the newspapers, we see this one insulting that one, that one says this about the other one,” he said.

“But in a society where the standards of politics has fallen so much – I am talking about world society – we lose the sense of building society, of social co-existence, and social co-existence is built on dialogue.”

He spoke of “political debates on television where even before one (candidate) finishes talking, he is interrupted.”

Francis did not single out any countries for criticism. Italian political talk shows are often shrill and last year’s U.S. presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were peppered with insults.

In one debate last September, for example, Trump called Clinton a “nasty woman” and she accused him of having “engaged in racist behavior”.

Francis urged everyone to seek “the patience of dialogue”.

He added: “Wars start inside our hearts, when I am not able to open myself to others, to respect others, to talk to others, to dialogue with others, that is how wars begin.”

The pope also warned against anti-immigrant movements, which have grown in the United States and a number of European countries, including Italy.

“Migrations are not a danger. They are a challenge for growth,” he said, adding it was important to integrate immigrants into host countries so they keep their traditions while learning new ones in a process of mutual enrichment.

He said immigrants should be welcomed “first of all as human brothers and sisters. They are men and women just like us.”

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

World cardinals back pope after anonymous attacks by conservatives

A worker covers with a banner reading "illegal poster" a poster depicting Pope Francis and accusing him of attacking conservative Catholics, in Rome, Italy,

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Senior Roman Catholic cardinals from the around the world defended Pope Francis on Monday against a spate of recent attacks from conservatives challenging his authority.

In an unusual move, nine cardinals in a group advising Francis on Vatican economic and structural reforms issued a statement expressing “full support for the pope’s work” and guaranteeing “full backing for him and his teachings”.

The statement was unusual in that the cardinals – from Italy, Chile, Austria, India, Germany, Congo, the United States, Australia and Honduras – customarily issue statements only at the end of their meetings, which are held four times a year.

The statement said the cardinals expressed their solidarity with the pope “in light of recent events,” which Vatican sources said was a clear reference to the attacks.

On Feb. 4, mystery activists working under cover of dark plastered posters around Rome criticizing the pope for moves seen as targeting conservatives in Church.

They featured a picture of a stern-faced pontiff and the slogan: “Where’s your mercy?” The posters accused Francis of several controversial acts, including what they called “the decapitation of the Knights of Malta.”

This was a reference to an ancient Catholic order of knights which is now a worldwide charity. Its former grand master, or top leader, handed in his resignation after he and his main backer, American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, lost a battle with the Vatican for control of the order.

Last week, a fake electronic edition of the Vatican daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, was sent anonymously to Vatican officials and journalists.

It poked fun at the pope for not having responded to a rare public challenge in November by four conservative cardinals, led by Burke, who accused him of sowing confusion on important moral issues such as homosexuality and divorce.

Cardinals are the highest-ranking Catholic prelates below the pope and those under 80 years old can vote in a conclave to elect his successor.

Burke has become a rallying point for conservatives who think the pope is taking the 1.2 billion member Church too far to the left and accuse him of showing more concern for social issues such as poverty and climate change than moral doctrine.

The cardinal was demoted from a senior Vatican position in 2014 and shunted to the post of chaplain to the Knights of Malta. On Jan 28, he was effectively sidelined from that post as well when the pope appointed a delegate to help run the order until a new grand master is elected.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

Italy’s Renzi says August quake caused at least 4 billion euros of damage

Italian Prime Minister Renzi addresses the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York

ROME, Sept 23 (Reuters) – An earthquake that killed 297 people in central Italy last month caused damage worth at least 4 billion euros ($4.5 billion), Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Friday.

Renzi, who is looking for as much fiscal leeway as possible from the European Commission as he prepares his 2017 budget, has said he expects earthquake-related costs to be excluded from the EU’s budget deficit limits.

However, he has remained vague on whether those costs should include only the immediate aid and reconstruction effort for the towns affected, or also costs related to a broader project to make Italy’s buildings more earthquake-resistant.

“We are looking at a minimum of 4 billion euros ($4.48 billion),” Renzi told reporters on Friday in his first estimate of the extent of the damage in the mountain towns hit by the Aug. 24 quake.

He said all money spent on making Italy’s schools earthquake proof would be excluded from EU’s Stability Pact which sets deficit ceilings for the bloc’s members. It remains to be seen whether the EU Commission will agree with this approach.

The government, which will publish new economic forecasts next week, is expected to sharply raise its target for the 2017 budget deficit from the current goal of 1.8 percent of gross domestic product.

Brussels says it has granted Italy “unprecedented” budget flexibility in recent years and is concerned about Rome’s inability to bring down its public debt, the highest in the euro zone after Greece’s as a percentage of GDP.

Renzi has insisted that the EU’S fiscal rules should be relaxed, and has attacked his fellow leaders for failing to
acknowledge that austerity policies have been counter productive.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Thursday Rome had already been given 19 billion euros of “flexibility” in its 2016 budget, in comments widely interpreted in Italy as a signal he may be reluctant to grant much more leeway for next year. ($1 = 0.8919 euros)

(Reporting By Gavin Jones; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Tempers flare as temperatures soar at Rome’s migrant center

Migrants queue for food at a makeshift camp in Via Cupa (Gloomy Street) in downtown Rome, Italy,

By Steve Scherer

ROME (Reuters) – Tempers are flaring between increasingly frustrated residents and boat migrants mostly from Africa using a well-known transit camp in central Rome as temperatures soar this summer.

Italy is taking in thousands of boat migrants every week for a third year in a row, and friction is common between them and those who live along the path many take on their journey toward northern Europe.

Set up by volunteers, the Baobab center, by Rome’s Tiburtina train station, was shut down by police in December in the wake of the Paris attacks and because the European Union wants Italy to stop migrants from moving on, not help them to do so.

But Baobab volunteers quickly set up a camp on the street in front of the old shelter with tents and chemical toilets, serving three meals a day, and migrants have flocked there in their thousands.

“We can’t open our windows because of the stench,” said Valeria, who lives with her six-year-old son and husband next to the camp in Via Cupa – Gloomy Street in English.

“The chemical toilets are never cleaned and dirty water leaks onto the street. It’s inhumane for them and for us.”

Baobab organizers estimate 40,000 have come through in the past year. Last week, about 300 men, women, children and teenage boys slept on mattresses laid out on the road, and the numbers are expected to rise as the summer wears on.

On one afternoon last week, a mother bathed her baby in a plastic tub, young men played table football, and women braided each other’s hair on a wicker couch – all in under the hot sun.

Residents and Baobab volunteers alike have been calling on Rome’s city government to provide a more suitable location, but after more than seven months none has been found.

The administration of Rome’s new mayor Virginia Raggi, elected in June, is working with institutions and humanitarian groups to come up with a plan by Aug. 15 to get the migrants off the road and into a more adequate location, the city’s social affairs office said in a statement.

Italy has been on the front line of Europe’s immigration crisis, taking in more than 420,000 boat migrants since the start of 2014, official figures show.

The state provides shelter to some 140,000 asylum seekers – seven times more than it did in 2013 – in centers up and down the Italian peninsula.

POST-ATTACK FEARS

Volunteers argue that shelters for migrants in transit are needed not only for humanitarian reasons, but also to keep them out of the hands of criminal people smugglers.

During one afternoon in late July, two Baobab volunteers escorted four young Eritreans to buy bus tickets for Milan. Their final destinations were Germany, Norway and Holland.

“Had we not helped them, they could have fallen prey to people smugglers,” said Sergio, a retired civil servant and Baobab volunteer.

Residents and businesses are also worried about security.

At the end of July, in the wake of violent attacks in Europe that killed hundreds of people, an insurance office that employs 19 people relocated to another part of Rome from Gloomy Street, saying both clients and employees no longer felt safe there.

“Everyday there are attacks around Europe,” said Gianluca Fasano, owner of the insurance office. “We have no idea who is staying there. We hope they’re all good people, but we don’t know.”

Eritrean, Somali and Sudanese are the most common nationalities found at Baobab because they often have family members already living in other countries. Typically they stay no longer than two or three days before moving on.

Baobab is fully operated by volunteers – doctors, retired civil servants, designers and others – and funded by donations. Each week its Facebook page asks for specific items, such as small-size men’s shoes or Ibuprofen. Someone donated a car battery so migrants can charge their phones.

“We’re the first to say that the situation is inadequate,” said Francesca Del Giudice, a Baobab founder. “We don’t think it’s a dignified shelter for them. We want to take them off the street; instead they’re sleeping on the street.”

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

Israel’s Netanyahu aims to head off criticism with diplomatic blitz

Benjamin Netanyahu Israel Prime Minister in meeting

By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to Rome on Sunday to try to fend off pressure from the United States and Europe over his settlements policy and opposition to a French-led effort to forge peace with the Palestinians.

Beginning three days of intense diplomacy, the right-wing premier will meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, in the Italian capital, followed by talks with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Jerusalem.

One of Netanyahu’s immediate concerns is a forthcoming report from the Middle East Quartet, a mediation group made up of the United States, EU, United Nations and Russia, that is expected to use unusually tough language in criticising Israel’s expansion of settlements on occupied land that the Palestinians seek for an independent state.

Diplomats confirmed that the current language in the report is strong, on the one hand condemning Israel’s unchecked building of settlement homes, which is considered illegal under international law, and on the other persistent Palestinian incitement against Israel during a recent wave of violence.

What is unclear is whether the wording may be softened before the report is issued, probably next week, although its publication has already been delayed several times.

“As it stands, the language is strong and Israel isn’t going to like it,” said one diplomat briefed on the content. “But it’s also not saying that much that hasn’t been said before – that settlements are a serious obstacle to peace.”

Netanyahu spoke by phone to Russian President Vladimir Putin this week as part of his efforts to keep the Kremlin closely updated on developments in the region. The leaders have met face-to-face four times in the past year, with one Israeli official saying the two had developed a good understanding.

As well as a desire to defang the Quartet report, there are a series of issues Netanyahu needs to broach with Kerry, including how to conclude drawn-out negotiations with Washington on a new, 10-year defence agreement.

There is also the looming issue of a peace conference organised by the French that is supposed to convene in the autumn, although it may no longer take place in Paris.

Israeli officials oppose the initiative, seeing it as side-stepping the need for Israel and the Palestinians to sit down and negotiate directly. They argue that it provides the Palestinians a chance to internationalise the conflict, rather than dealing with the nitty-gritty on the ground.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who addressed the European Parliament on Wednesday, said Israel was feeling impatience with Europe and now was not the right time to push for peace.

“Currently, the practical conditions, the political and regional circumstances, which would enable us to reach a permanent agreement between us — the Israelis and the Palestinians — are failing to materialise,” he said.

Many diplomats also question whether the French initiative can inject life into an all-but-defunct peace process, which last broke down in 2014, but they are willing to try.

A nagging concern for Israel is that the conference will end up fixing a time frame for an agreement on ending Israel’s 49-year-old occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and reaching a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

If that doesn’t emerge from the French plan, it remains possible that a resolution along similar lines could be presented to the United Nations Security Council before the end of the year. That is another reason why Netanyahu will be eager to sit down with Ban for talks on Tuesday.

(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Italian Cities Take Drastic Steps to Reduce High Air Pollution

A few Italian cities are taking some dramatic steps to reduce the amount of pollution in the air.

Milan is banning all private vehicles like cars and motorcycles from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from Monday through Wednesday, according to a posting on the city’s website.

Rome has also introduced some restrictions on motorcycle and moped use due to a high level of air pollution there. The city is also saying that homes and offices must keep their thermostats between 62 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit, another anti-pollution measure.

In San Vitaliano, located just outside Naples, the mayor banned bakeries and catering businesses, including pizzerias, from burning wood chips, pellets and charcoal to cook – a staple of Italian pizza making – unless business owners first install an appropriate air filter.

Rome and Milan, Italy’s two largest cities, both rank in the top 20 when it comes to Europe’s most polluted cities, according to the Soot Free for the Climate campaign. Both have previously restricted traffic to fight pollution, according to a BBC report, and are doing so again because there hasn’t been any recent rain to help sweep away the smog.

San Vitaliano, on the other hand, is a relatively small municipality of about 6,000 people, though officials there are no less concerned about air pollution’s impact on public health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 7 million people died as a result of air pollution in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. That represented about 1 in 8 global deaths.

The WHO has said polluted air is the world’s largest environmental health risk as it can fuel other issues like heart and lung diseases. The organization is especially concerned about fine particulate matter, which can adversely affect one’s health even at relatively small levels.

In issuing his edict, San Vitaliano mayor Antonio Falcone noted the city “has recorded high values ​​of pollutants,” particularly the fine particulate matter, and no one has been able to determine the source of the problem, which has worsened as temperatures became colder.

Meanwhile, the BBC reported Thursday that 10 cities in northeast China have asked residents to stay inside because of dangerous air pollution.

Pope: Devil Is “The Father of Hate”

Pope Francis surprised of a small Roman district by appearing at a shantytown for homeless families and then teaching at a nearby parish.

The Pope stopped at a shantytown called “Campo Arcobaleno” where he visited with the families and prayed with them.  He also met with some of the homeless families at the parish of San Michele Arcangelo where the church cares for the homeless.

“The fact that people do not know your name, and call you ‘homeless’ and you carry this: It is your cross, and your patience,” said Pope Francis. “But there is something in the heart of all of you – of this, please be assured – there is the Holy Spirit.”

The Pope then met with the children of the parish, speaking mostly to the older children in attendance about war and evil in the world.  He had the children make a list of places they know war is taking place such as Iraq, Ukraine and Africa and then he said that wars are easier for people who do not possess God.

The Pope asked the children who was the father of war and smiled when they responded “the devil.”

Pope Francis then said the devil is the “father of hate” and “the father of lies.”

“But God wants unity,” Pope Francis said. “If in your heart you feel jealousy, this is the beginning of war.  Jealousies are not of God.”

“Because the devil takes stupidity and makes a world,” he continued. “Then these enmities continue and multiply for years.  It destroys the family: Parents suffer because their children do not speak to each other, or with the wife of a son…And so this jealousy and envy, it is sowed by the devil.  And the only one who can drive out demons is Jesus.  The only one who can heal these things is Jesus. So to each of your: Have yourself healed by Jesus.”

The concluded the visit with a teaching to the entire congregation about the importance of Jesus in their lives and how vital is it to stay in contact with the Scriptures.

“Have this daily contact with the Gospel,” Pope Francis said.  “Pray with the Gospel.”