Italian police on Wednesday arrested 24 people involved in a campaign to demand independence for Venice and its surrounding region and seized a tractor that they said the activists had tried to convert into a sort of tank.
The surprise arrests came just two weeks after activists held an online vote calling for the Veneto region, which encompasses the lagoon city, to break away from the rest of Italy and declare itself the “Repubblica Veneta”.
The authorities accused the 24 separatists of being involved in “terrorism”, “fabrication of weapons of war” and “subversion of the democratic order”.
The activists were part of a “secessionist group that was planning various initiatives, some of them violent, aimed at pushing for the independence of Veneto and other parts of the national territory of the Italian State,” the paramilitary Carabinieri said.
The activists were allegedly planning to use the “tank”, which was armed with a makeshift cannon, to stage a protest in Venice’s St Mark’s Square, 17 years after a similar stunt in which Veneto separatists drove a home-made armoured car into the famous square.
Police claim the makeshift tank was in good working order and was capable of firing projectiles from its barrel.
Those arrested included Franco Rocchetta, a former MP and the founder of the Liga Veneta, or Veneto League, one of several separatist movements calling for independence for the affluent north-eastern region.
In last month’s unofficial referendum, organisers claimed that 56 per cent of registered voters in the region cast a vote online and that an overwhelming majority supported secession from Italy.
They said that out of a total 2.36 million votes cast, 2.1 million voted for independence.
The drive for independence is supported by Veneto’s most powerful politician, Luca Zaia, who is president of the region and a member of the separatist Northern League.
Mr Zaia leads a regional assembly which is debating holding an official referendum on the issue, just as Scotland secured the right to hold September’s vote on seceding from the UK. He says there are powerful economic and cultural reasons for Veneto to strive for independence.
Venetians and the people of surrounding cities such as Padova and Vicenza deeply resent the fact that each year Rome takes 20 billion euros of their tax revenue.
They feel that the money is squandered on corrupt and dysfunctional parts of Italy, particularly in the crime-ridden south.
Source: The Telegraph