Gunman shoots two policemen in Rome as new government sworn in

Two officers seriously injured as unemployed builder opens fire


If Italy’s new prime minister, Enrico Letta, had even the slightest doubt about the difficult task awaiting him, they were dispelled by a dramatic shoot-out yesterday in front of government house, Palazzo Chigi, in central Rome.

Even as the Letta cabinet ministers were being sworn in yesterday morning by President Giorgio Napolitano, an unemployed man was opening fire on two security policemen outside Palazzo Chigi. After he had walked into Piazza Colonna in front of the prime minister’s office, 49-year-old unemployed builder Luigi Preiti was stopped by security police.

When he was told he could proceed no further, he opened fire with a small Beretta revolver. He seriously injured two policemen while causing minor injuries to a pregnant woman, her husband and child.

When Preiti had fired all six bullets in his gun, he was overwhelmed by other policemen, thrown to the ground, handcuffed and arrested. Neither of the injured policemen incurred life-threatening injuries, but one was shot in the throat while the other had his leg broken.

Austerity victim?
All the initial indications would suggest that Preiti is very much a child of these “austerity” times in Italy. Originally from the ’Ndrangheta-infested town of Rosarno in Calabria, Preiti moved north to Alessandria in Piedmont for work more than 20 years ago. In the last two years, he has had serious problems, the failure of his small building business and the break-up of his marriage, two disasters which prompted him to move back to Rosarno to live with his parents.

Although media sources initially described him as “mentally disturbed”, his brother Arcangelo yesterday said that “until this morning, he was totally lucid and enterprising”. It may well be that Preiti is simply another victim of the zero-growth economic crisis.

That crisis will clearly be top priority for the new government headed by Democratic Party (PD) number two Mr Letta, announced on Saturday evening.

As expected, in the wake of an inconclusive February general election result, Mr Letta has put together a broad PD-PDL coalition, supplemented by technocrats such as the governor of the Bank of Italy, Fabrizio Saccomanni ,and former prefect Anna Maria Cancellieri who also served in the outgoing government of Mario Monti.

Given the difficult circumstances in which this government was formed, in the wake of a presidential election badly botched by the PD last week, Mr Letta (46) has tried valiantly to make the best of a bad situation with some innovative appointments. For a start, seven of his 21 ministers are women, a female presence of record proportions by Italian standards. The average ministerial age is 53, compared with 64 for the Monti government.

Furthermore, his integration minister is Congolese immigrant Cecile Kyenge (49), who becomes the first black woman to hold a cabinet post. Mr Letta has also appointed former European commissioner, radical and feminist activist Emma Bonino as his foreign minister. Intriguingly, too, the former Olympic rowing gold medallist Josefa Idem, an athlete who competed in eight consecutive Olympics from Los Angeles ’84 to London 2012, has been named sports minister.

On the realpolitik front, Mr Letta has bowed to the inevitable, appointing PDL party secretary Angelino Alfano as both minister of the interior and his deputy prime minister. Other PDL figures appointed to cabinet include Maurizio Lupi as transport minister, Beatrice Lorenzin as health minister and Nunzia de Girolamo as minister for agriculture.

Significantly, though, Mr Letta has ensured three of the most delicate posts – finance, justice and foreign affairs – did not go to representatives from either of the two main parties. Mr Saccomanni will serve at financeand Ms Cancellieri moves from the interior ministry to justice.

Ms Cancellieri is likely to immediately find herself at the centre of major polemics if the PDL pushes for a judicial “amnesty” on the legal problems confronting PDL leader Silvio Berlusconi. With no formal role in this government, Mr Berlusconi may well feel free to pull the plug on this coalition when it suits him, just as he did with the Monti technocrat government just before Christmas.

Longevity likelihood
In reality, this government seems destined to be short-lived, possibly not lasting even one year, such are the totally contrasting political visions of its coalition components and their respective electorates. Crucially, the M5S protest movement has declined to participate.

Mr Letta will announce his government programme to parliament this afternoon. Inevitably, it will be limited to three key issues: economic stability; growth stimulation and unemployment reduction; and electoral reform. As yesterday’s shoot-out indicated, the road in front of him is rising all the way.