Immigration Rally Held in Rome

19.Jan.02,  first published by Associated Press: read the original article here.

ROME (AP) - Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through Rome Saturday to protest the a crackdown on immigration advocated by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government.

Marchers were lively but peaceful as they headed to a final, evening rally in Piazza Navona, a popular Rome square.

Saturday's turnout was in response to a rally in northern Italy last month by proponents of a tightened immigration policy. Northern Italy is the power base of Umberto Bossi, one of Berlusconi's ministers who has been accused by some of being anti-foreigner.

``More couscous, less polenta,'' read one placard Saturday, a twist on the ``Yes to polenta, no to couscous'' slogan of Bossi's supporters.

Polenta, a cornmeal dish, is a traditional working class favorite in the northern region of Bossi, while couscous, made with semolina, is popular in North Africa, home to tens of thousands of Italy's immigrants.

In October, Berlusconi's Cabinet approved proposed legislation making illegal immigration a crime punishable by up to four years in jail. Currently, illegal immigrants are expelled.

Berlusconi, whose campaign coalition last year promised to crack down on immigration, enjoys a solid majority in parliament, which has yet to vote on the proposed law.

Asked about Saturday's rally, Communications Minister Maurizio Gasparri said the government was in favor of quotas limiting the entry of foreign workers.

The new legislation would make it impossible for immigrants to win permission to stay in Italy unless they have a work contract. At the end of the contract, they would have to leave Italy.

The legislation, backed by Bossi and Deputy Premier Gianfranco Fini, who is leader of a formerly neo-fascist party, would allow employers to give jobs to immigrants only if local authorities could verify no Italians want the work.

But most immigrants here take jobs many Italians are reluctant to do, including washing dishes in restaurants, picking crops and cleaning houses and offices.

Bossi's Northern League blame immigrants for much of Italy's crime.