Italy Seeks UN Probe Into DRC Envoy’s Killing

Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio looks on as he prepares to address parliament in Rome on February 24, 2021 on the death of the Italian ambassador in an attack in DR Congo. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / POOL / AFP)

 

Italy said Wednesday it has asked the United Nations to launch an investigation into the killing of its ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The envoy, Luca Attanasio, 43, died on Monday after a World Food Programme (WFP) convoy was ambushed in a dangerous part of the eastern DRC near the border with Rwanda.

Attanasio’s Italian bodyguard and a Congolese driver were also killed.

“We have formally asked WFP (World Food Programme) and the UN to open an investigation to clarify what happened, the reasons behind the security arrangements used and who was responsible for these decisions,” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told parliament.

Di Maio’s comments came the morning after the bodies of the two Italians were returned by military plane to Rome.

READ ALSO: EU Chief Seeks ‘Amicable’ Solution As AstraZeneca Admits New Delays

“We expect, in the briefest possible time, clear and exhaustive answers,” Di Maio said.

On Monday, the DRC’s interior ministry blamed the killings on the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a Rwandan Hutu rebel group.

But the FDLR rejected the allegation and instead blamed the Rwandan and DRC militaries.

Di Maio said the party was relying on UN protocol during the trip from the capital Kinshasa to Goma, some 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) east, but that Attanasio had “full power” to decide how and where to move within DRC.

“The mission took place at the invitation of the United Nations. So even the car journey took place within the organisational framework set up by the World Food Programme,” Di Maio.

The WFP is a branch of the UN which focuses on hunger and food security, and which was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize.

Di Maio said a team of Italian police had already been dispatched to the DRC for an initial investigation and others would follow.

– Opened fire –

In addressing the Chamber of Deputies, Di Maio provided preliminary details of how the attack on the two vehicles unfolded in the mountainous, thickly forested area about 25 kilometres from Goma, between 10am and 11am local time.

Six attackers “allegedly forced the vehicles to stop by placing obstacles on the road and firing several shots from small arms in the air,” Di Maio said.

Although the sound of gunfire attracted park rangers from the nearby Virunga National Park, a wildlife reserve, and army soldiers, the attackers ordered the members of the convoy out of the vehicles and into the bush, Di Maio said, citing information from the governor of North Kivu.

“The governor added that in order to force their victims to leave the road and enter the bush, the assailants killed the WFP driver. According to initial reconstructions of the WFP, the assailants then drove the rest of the members into the forest,” he said.

Upon the arrival of the armed park rangers at the site, the attackers “opened fire on the (bodyguard) soldier, killing him, and on the Italian ambassador, seriously wounding him.”

Attanasio was later evacuated to a hospital in Goma, where he died.

The DRC interior ministry said Monday that security services and provincial authorities had not been informed in advance of Attanasio’s trip.

But the WFP said the road on which the attack occurred had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts.

DR Congo Accuses Hutu Rebels Of Killing Italian Ambassador, Two Others

A photo combination of Italian Luca Attanasio and a medical vehicle of the North Kivu hospital loaded with the body of the driver on a road on the edge of the Virunga National Park near the village of Kibumba, some 25km from Goma, where the Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, his bodyguard and driver, were killed earlier when their car came under gunfire while he was on a field trip on February 22, 2021. ALEXIS HUGUET / AFP

 

 

Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo was among three people killed on Monday when a UN convoy was ambushed in the country’s troubled east, an attack the government blamed on a Rwandan Hutu rebel group.

Luca Attanasio died of his wounds after a World Food Programme (WFP) convoy came under gunfire near Goma while he was on a field trip, a senior diplomatic source said in Kinshasa.

The Italian government confirmed Attanasio’s death and said an Italian policeman, Vittorio Iacovacci, as well as a driver it did not identify, had also died.

READ ALSO: Ugandan Soldiers Jailed For Assaulting Journalists

President Sergio Mattarella lashed what he called a “cowardly attack.”

“The Italian republic is in mourning for these servants of the state who lost their lives,” he said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio expressed his “great dismay and immense sorrow”, breaking off from a meeting in Brussels with EU counterparts to make an early return to Rome.

The DRC’s interior ministry, in a statement, blamed the attack on “members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR),” a Rwandan Hutu rebel group that has plagued the region for more than a quarter of a century.

Four people were kidnapped, one of whom was later found, it said.

Attanasio, 43, had been representing Italy in Kinshasa since 2017, first as head of mission, and then as ambassador from October 2019.

The envoy suffered “gunshot wounds to the abdomen” and was taken to a hospital in Goma in critical condition, the diplomat in Kinshasa said.

The DRC’s army said its troops were searching the area for the assailants.

– Troubled region –
A vast country the size of continental western Europe, the DRC is grappling with numerous conflicts, especially in its remote, mineral-rich east.

Scores of militias roam the four eastern provinces, many of them a legacy of wars in the 1990s that sucked in countries around central-southern Africa and claimed millions of lives.

According to a US monitor, the Kivu Security Tracker (KST), 122 armed groups were active in North and South Kivu, Ituri and Tanganyika provinces last year. More than 2,000 civilians were killed, according to UN figures issued last week.

Monday’s attack occurred north of the North Kivu capital of Goma, in Nyiaragongo Territory — an area where the FDLR is one of a number of armed groups.

Some of the founders of the FDLR were involved in the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis but also Hutu moderates, were slaughtered by the Hutu majority.

The group is opposed to the current Rwandan government but has not launched any large-scale offensive in Rwanda since 2001.

In April last year, the FDLR was blamed for killing 12 rangers in the Virunga National Park, a UNESCO-listed wildlife reserve that is home to critically-endangered mountain gorillas.

Another group in the area north of Goma is a Congolese Tutsi group also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, which took Goma in 2012-2013.

The WFP said Attanasio had been with it on a fact-finding mission.

“The delegation was travelling from Goma to visit a WFP school feeding programme in Rutshuru when the incident took place,” it said in a statement.

“The attack… occurred on a road that had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts,” it said.

 

Resident of the village of Kibumba stand as UN and Congolese armed forces soldiers retrieve bodies on the edge of the Virunga National Park, some 25km from Goma, where Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, his bodyguard and driver, were killed earlier when their car came under gunfire while he was on a field trip on February 22, 2021.
ALEXIS HUGUET / AFP

 

But the DRC interior ministry said the security services and provincial authorities had not been given advance warning.

“(They) were unable to provide special security for the convoy or come to its aid because of a lack of information about their presence in this part of the country, despite its reputation for instability,” its statement said.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued a statement urging the DRC to swiftly investigate a “heinous targeting’ of a UN mission.

– ‘Uncommon courage’ –
Attanasio joined the Italian diplomatic service in 2003 and had previously served in Switzerland, Morocco and Nigeria.

He was hailed as “a man gifted with uncommon courage, humanity and professionalism” by Emanuela Del Re, who was deputy foreign minister from 2018 until last month.

“I remember his infectious smile, his class, his great knowledge of African affairs,” she said. “Ciao (good-bye) my dear esteemed Luca.”

Attanasio is the second European ambassador to have been killed while serving in the DRC.

In January 1993, French ambassador Philippe Bernard was killed during riots in Kinshasa sparked by troops opposing dictator Mobutu Sese Seke.

AFP

Italy Confirms Death Of Its Ambassador To DR Congo

The Italian Flag.

 

Italy’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Luca Attanasio, was killed on Monday travelling with a UN convoy in eastern DRC, the foreign ministry in Rome said.

“It is with deep sadness that the Foreign Ministry confirms the death, today in Goma, of the Italian ambassador,” the ministry said, adding that an Italian policeman also died.

More to follow . . . 

Mario Draghi Sworn In As Italy’s Prime Minister

Italy’s Prime Minister, Mario Draghi arrives on February 13, 2021 for a formal swearing-in ceremony of his government at the Quirinale presidential palace in Rome. Former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi was formally appointed Italy’s new prime minister on February 12, charged with guiding his country through the devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.
Tiziana FABI / AFP

 

Mario Draghi was formally sworn in as Italy’s new prime minister on Saturday, following weeks of instability in the eurozone’s third-largest economy. 

The appointment of the 73-year-old known as “Super Mario” capped weeks of political instability for the country still in the grips of the health crisis that has killed more than 93,000 people.

“I swear to be loyal to the Republic,” recited Draghi, as he stood before President Sergio Mattarella in the ornate presidential palace in a televised ceremony.

Members of his new cabinet, who include technocrats, veteran politicians and ministers held over from the previous government, each took the oath of office.

Draghi was parachuted in by Mattarella after the previous centre-left coalition under premier Giuseppe Conte collapsed, leading Italy rudderless amid the worst recession since World War II.

After assembling a broad-based coalition, on Friday night he formally accepted the post of premier, publicly revealing the new cabinet for the first time.

On Wednesday, Draghi will be presented to the Senate, the upper house of parliament, followed by the lower Chamber of Deputies on Thursday for a confidence vote that will give the final official blessing to his government.

“Break a leg,” read the headline on La Stampa daily Saturday, as an Ipsos poll in the Corriere della Sera daily showed 62 percent of Italians supporting Draghi.

Following the swearing-in, Conte greeted his successor in Chigi Palace, the prime minister’s office, during a short ceremony, receiving sustained applause from civil servants in the courtyard before departing in an official vehicle.

Conte’s final months in office were marked by political turmoil but the former law professor — who rose to power in 2018 with no prior political experience — represented for many Italians a comforting, steady hand during the darkest moments of the pandemic last year.

 – Coalition, for now? –

Draghi has the support of a rainbow coalition ranging from leftists to Matteo Salvini’s far-right League.

It includes the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and Italia Viva — who made-up the previous government before falling out over the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

M5S, parliament’s biggest party that began life as an anti-establishment movement, was split over whether to support a government led by an unelected technocrat.

But in an online vote, members backed Draghi by 59 percent, after securing the promise of a new super-ministry for “ecological transition”.

That post has gone to renowned physicist Roberto Cingolani, who works at Italian aeronautics giant Leonardo.

The senior deputy governor of Bank of Italy, Daniele Franco, was named economy minister, while Roberto Speranza and Luigi Di Maio stay on at health and foreign affairs, respectively.

– Challenges await –

Italy has high hopes for its new leader, who famously said he would do “whatever it takes” to save the eurozone in the midst of the 2010s debt crisis.

Although he himself has no political power base, Draghi relies on years of experience in the Italian civil service, as well as his banking career.

His arrival was cheered by the financial markets with Italy’s borrowing costs dropping to a historic low this week.

Nevertheless, “it is difficult to overstate the scale of the challenges that Draghi and Italy face”, said Luigi Scazzieri of the Centre for European Reform.

The Covid-19 shutdown and waves of subsequent restrictions caused the economy to shrink by a staggering 8.9 percent last year, while more than 420,000 people have lost their jobs.

The virus remains rife and Conte’s cabinet, in one of its last acts, on Friday tightened curbs in four regions and extended a ban on inter-regional travel.

Like other European Union countries, Italy has also fallen behind in its vaccination programme, blaming delivery delays.

The country is pinning hopes on receiving more than 220 billion euros ($267 billion) in EU recovery funds to help get back on its feet, but analysts expect uphill challenges for Draghi in pushing through structural reforms.

-AFP 

Outbreak Of UK COVID-19 Variant Detected In Italian Town

File: Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

 

Health experts warned on Thursday of new coronavirus variants beginning to circulate in Italy, as authorities pinpointed an outbreak of a UK strain in a northern town.

The town of Corzano in the Lombardy region has been swabbing close contacts of students and teachers in a school where 24 people tested positive for Covid-19 last month.

After 139 people were found positive out of 189 tested, health authorities in the province of Brescia decided to sequence the samples, which identified the British strain of the virus.

“Fourteen samples were sequenced which resulted in… 14 positives for the British variant,” the Brescia health agency wrote in a statement sent to AFP on Thursday.

READ ALSO: Red Cross To Help 500 Million Get COVID-19 Shots

The more easily transmissible British variant of the coronavirus is one of several to have emerged internationally in recent months.

Although only one of the 139 people who tested positive in Corzano has been hospitalised, and most others are asymptomatic, health experts warned that the arrival of new virus variants should not be underestimated.

Italy was the first European country to be hit by coronavirus a year ago and so far 90,000 people with Covid-19 have died.

Independent health think tank GIMBE said overall cases had recently declined thanks to restrictions on movement over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays and into January.

But it warned that the first signs of increases in some regions could point to the presence of new variants.

GIMBE President Nino Cartabellotta said the country was undergoing “one of the most critical phases of the pandemic”.

He noted the slowdown of the vaccination programme that began in late December, following delays in the delivery of doses, and “the first signs of increased circulation of the virus, undoubtedly underestimated”.

“But above all looms the threat of new variants, already landed in Italy, which risk increasing the contagion curve,” Cartabellotta added.

In Corzano, authorities believe they have successfully contained the outbreak, saying that in the first three days of February, only one or two people a day had tested positive for the virus.

But GIMBE noted that nine regions had registered a rise in new infections in the seven days from January 27 to Tuesday, compared with the previous week, and recommended genome sequencing when abnormal spikes in new cases are detected.

Italy’s health ministry confirmed the country’s first case of the UK variant on December 20, in a patient recently returned from Britain.

UK COVID-19 Variant Detected In Italian Town


Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

 

Health experts warned on Thursday of new coronavirus variants beginning to circulate in Italy, as authorities pinpointed an outbreak of a UK strain in a northern town.

The town of Corzano in the Lombardy region has been swabbing close contacts of students and teachers in a school where 24 people tested positive for Covid-19 last month.

After 139 people were found positive out of 189 tested, health authorities in the province of Brescia decided to sequence the samples, which identified the British strain of the virus.

“Fourteen samples were sequenced which resulted in… 14 positives for the British variant,” the Brescia health agency wrote in a statement sent to AFP on Thursday.

The more easily transmissible British variant of the coronavirus is one of several to have emerged internationally in recent months.

Although only one of the 139 people who tested positive in Corzano has been hospitalised, and most others are asymptomatic, health experts warned that the arrival of new virus variants should not be underestimated.

Italy was the first European country to be hit by coronavirus a year ago and so far 90,000 people with Covid-19 have died.

Independent health think tank GIMBE said overall cases had recently declined thanks to restrictions on movement over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays and into January.

But it warned that the first signs of increases in some regions could point to the presence of new variants.

GIMBE President Nino Cartabellotta said the country was undergoing “one of the most critical phases of the pandemic”.

He noted the slowdown of the vaccination programme that began in late December, following delays in the delivery of doses, and “the first signs of increased circulation of the virus, undoubtedly underestimated”.

“But above all looms the threat of new variants, already landed in Italy, which risk increasing the contagion curve,” Cartabellotta added.

In Corzano, authorities believe they have successfully contained the outbreak, saying that in the first three days of February, only one or two people a day had tested positive for the virus.

But GIMBE noted that nine regions had registered a rise in new infections in the seven days from January 27 to Tuesday, compared with the previous week, and recommended genome sequencing when abnormal spikes in new cases are detected.

Italy’s health ministry confirmed the country’s first case of the UK variant on December 20, in a patient recently returned from Britain.

-AFP

Italy Eases COVID-19 Measures, Colosseum Reopens

People shop at the outdoor market and walk about in central Rome on May 9, 2020, during the country’s partial lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. Tiziana FABI / AFP.

 

Italy on Monday relaxed coronavirus restrictions in most of its regions, allowing greater freedom to travel and the daytime reopening of bars, restaurants and museums.

The government announced an easing of restrictions on Friday, even after the World Health Organization (WHO) and other experts warned that the move may be premature.

Sixteen regions are now under the lower-risk “yellow” category, while five — Sicily, Sardinia and Puglia in the south, Umbria in the centre and South Tyrol in the north — are still “orange.”

In Rome, which is in the “yellow” region of Lazio, the Colosseum and other tourist landmarks such as the Pantheon and the Borghese Gallery reopened their doors.

READ ALSO: Libyan Election Vow Must Be Honoured ‘At All Costs’ – UN

The Vatican also eased coronavirus restrictions, allowing visitors back into the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel after being closed for 88 days — the longest closure since World War II.

However, museums can stay open in “yellow” regions only during the week.

In “orange” areas, bars and restaurants are limited to takeaway or home delivery service, people cannot leave their towns of residence except for work or urgent needs, and museums remain shut.

A nationwide curfew remains in place from 10 pm to 5 am, along with social distancing and mask-wearing in public.

The country has been one of the worst-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 2.5 million infections and around 88,500 deaths from Covid-19. It recorded 11,252 new coronavirus cases and 237 deaths on Sunday.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said that returning to yellow zones “does not mean that the danger is over”.

“We still need the utmost caution if we don’t want to reverse the gains made in the past weeks.”

Italy Probes ‘TikTok Challenge’ Death Of 10-Year-Old Girl

tik-tok
This illustration photo taken on June 29, 2020 shows a person using the video-sharing app TikTok on a smartphone in New Delhi.
Sajjad HUSSAIN / AFP

 

Italian prosecutors have opened a probe into the accidental death of a 10-year-old girl who allegedly took part in a “blackout challenge” on the video-sharing network TikTok.

The girl died in a Palermo hospital after being discovered Wednesday by her five-year-old sister in her family bathroom with her cellphone, which was seized by police.

TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, said Friday it had not managed to identify any content on its site that could have encouraged the girl to participate in any such challenge, but was helping the authorities in the probe over possible “incitement to suicide”.

“The safety of the TikTok community is our absolute priority, for this motive we do not allow any content that encourages, promotes or glorifies behaviour that could be dangerous,” a TikTok spokesman said.

Medical experts have warned about the danger of the challenge being taken up by some young people, who refer to it as “scarfing” or “the choking game” in which restricted oxygen to the brain results in a high.

The girls’ parents told La Repubblica newspaper that another daughter explained that her sister “was playing the blackout game”.

“We didn’t know anything,” the girl’s father told the paper.

“We didn’t know she was participating in this game. We knew that (our daughter) went on TikTok for dances, to look at videos. How could I imagine this atrocity?” he said.

Italy’s data protection agency filed a lawsuit against TikTok in December, alleging a “lack of attention to the protection of minors” and criticising the ease with which very young children could sign up to the video app.

TikTok, which went global in 2018, has built its rapid success on its parodies, messages and short dance or comedy video performances set against popular music — along with an algorithm that determines which content is most likely to interest each user.

The death of the girl provoked strong reactions in Italy and calls for better regulation of social networks.

“Social networks can’t become a jungle where anything is allowed,” said Licia Ronzulli, president of Italy’s parliamentary commission on child protection.

108-Year-Old Italian Woman Receives COVID-19 Vaccine

A photo taken and handout on January 18, 2021 by the communications office of the Italian healthcare Kos Group, shows the vaccination against COVID-19 of 108-years-old Fatima Negrini (R), a resident at the group’s Anni Azzurri San Faustino residence in Milan who tested positive to the coronavirus in May 2020. (Photo by Handout / KOS GROUP / AFP)

 

An Italian centenarian has become one of the oldest people in the world to get a Covid-19 vaccine, months after she survived a coronavirus infection, her retirement home said.

Fatima Negrini, who is due to turn 109 on June 3, received the jab on Monday along with other residents of the Anni Azzurri San Faustino care home in Milan, a spokesman told AFP.

“The arrival of the vaccine for her and all guests and staff… represents a moment of great happiness and a first step towards a return to peaceful everyday life inside the facility,” said Matteo Tessarollo.

When Negrini shook off the virus last year, the Corriere della Sera newspaper quoted her as saying: “God forgot about me.”

READ ALSO: Biden Pushes For Unity Two Days Before Taking Over Crisis-Laden White House

Italy began coronavirus vaccinations on December 27 and has since inoculated 1.15 million people.

On Monday, a vaccine was also given to Sami Modiano, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor from Rome, according to regional president and leader of the centre-left Democratic Party Nicola Zingaretti.

Posting a picture of Modiano getting the jab on Twitter, Zingaretti called it “an image of trust and hope for everybody”.

Inter Beat Juventus To Move Level With Leaders Milan

 

 

Inter Milan beat champions Juventus 2-0 to move level on points with Serie A leaders AC Milan on Sunday, boosting their hopes of a first league title since 2010.

Arturo Vidal got his head to a Nicolo Barella cross after 12 minutes for his first league goal for Inter Milan against his former club.

Barella added the second six minutes after the break as Inter claimed a first win over Juventus since September 2016, ending a series of seven matches without a win.

Inter are equal on 40 points with local rivals Milan, who travel to Cagliari on Monday, with Juventus fifth, seven points behind the Milan teams with a game in hand.

For Inter coach Antonio Conte it was a first win in four meetings against the club he led to the first three of their current run of nine consecutive league titles.

Italy To Impose New Restrictions Over Christmas, New Year

Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP.

 

Italy, one of the countries worst hit by Covid-19, will be placed under new restrictions over the Christmas and New Year periods, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced late Friday.

Under the new measures, shops, bars, and restaurants will be closed and travel between regions will be banned, and in theory, only one daily outside trip per household will be permitted.

Religious celebrations will be allowed until 10:00 pm.

“Our experts fear that the infection curve will increase during the Christmas period,” Conte said.

The prime minister conceded that the authorities had neither the means nor the will to monitor compliance with containment measures, but he asked Italians to respect a new limit of people hosting two adult guests at home.

Food shops, hairdressing salons, pharmacies, tobacconists and laundries as well as bookstores will, however, remain open.

Conte specified that the confinement would be relaxed on December 28, 29, 30 as well as on January 4.

On these days, shops can remain open until 9:00 pm and people will be allowed to move about freely.

Italy has 60 million inhabitants and one of the oldest populations in Europe.

-AFP

Italian Population Shrinks, Higher Older Population- Official Data

 

Italy’s population is declining and becoming steadily older, according to new figures Tuesday from the national statistics agency.

At the end of 2019, Italy had 59,641,488 residents — some 175,000 fewer than the previous year, or a reduction of 0.3 percent, Istat said.

This represents just 207,000 more than in 2011, the year of the last census — and is the result only of immigration, it said.

“The very slight increase in the population since 2011 can be exclusively attributed to the foreign component,” the report said.

 

READ ALSO: Somalia Cuts Diplomatic Ties With Kenya

 

Between 2011 and 2019, the number of Italian nationals fell by almost 800,000, or 1.5 percent, despite more than one million foreigners taking Italian citizenship.

Meanwhile, the number of foreign nationals living in the country rose by one million — up 25 percent to just over five million in 2019.

The figures also confirm the trend in Italy towards an ageing population — the average age has gone up by two years, to 45, since 2011.

The southern regions, including the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, are the youngest but have also seen their populations shrink the most.

Again migrants buck the national trend — the average age of foreign nationals resident in Italy last year was 34.7 years, compared with 46.2 for Italian nationals.

-AFP