ROSARNO, Italy (AP) — Hundreds of migrant workers, most of them Africans, went on a rampage Friday in a southern Italian town in a second day of rioting, with authorities reporting at least 37 wounded, including 18 police officers and five migrants.
Violence ebbed and flared throughout Friday in Rosarno, a town near the western coast of Calabria in the “toe” of the Italian peninsula. The clashes in the volatile area had begun a day earlier, when two migrants were wounded by pellet fire, said a top police official, Renato Cortese, in the regional capital.
Police reinforcements were being sent in the next hours, likely during the night, with the exact number still being decided, the Interior Ministry said.
Friday evening, another two migrants were wounded in the feet and legs by pellet fire, and three more were seriously injured when they were beaten with metal rods, police and hospital officials said.
The two migrants shot Friday were in the hamlet of Laureana di Borrello, 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Rosarno, said Cortese. There was no information about the attacker.
Officials at Santa Maria degli Ungheresi Hospital in the nearby town of Polistena said one of the migrants beaten by metal rods had surgery for a kidney injury and another was treated for an eye socket injury, and the third wounded in the attack was taken to another hospital for brain surgery.
The rioting began after Thursday’s shooting, in which two men — one from Nigeria, the other from Togo — were lightly injured. The foreigners angrily blamed that shooting on racism, and groups of protesters stoned police, attacked residents and smashed shop windows and cars.
Friday, angry migrants, mostly from African nations, some armed with metal bars or wooden sticks, scuffled with police and residents in the streets of Rosarno.
Other residents were holed up in their homes, state radio reported, and schools and shops were shuttered.
“I’d say you could step out and buy some bread only because you have to eat, but if I had to choose I wouldn’t go out for an evening stroll,” said Cortese, asked by the AP in a telephone interview how dangerous Rosarno’s streets were.
Police said late Friday evening that at least 37 people had been injured, including the five migrants, 14 residents and 18 police officers.
A young mother with a bruise under an eye and a bandage on the side of her head, told state TV a group of migrants started smashing her car. The woman said that, fearful for the safety of her small children, she managed to drive about two meters (6 feet), before her attackers pushed her car into a wall. Terrified, she fled with her family, and the assailants set her car afire, she said.
With television cameras rolling in the streets, some residents shouted that they wanted the migrants to leave the town.
An exact number of arrests was not available because the clashes were continuing, although they were “under control,” said the paramilitary Carabinieri police press office.
Earlier, the Interior Ministry said seven migrants had been arrested.
The Italians arrested included one who tried to hit a migrant with a bulldozer as the rioters headed toward the town’s center. Another Italian resident was taken into custody after trying to hit a migrant with a car, the Italian news agency ANSA reported from Rosarno, a town of 15,000 people.
Agazio Loiero, the governor of the Calabria region, told Sky TV said that the violence was “unacceptable” but the migrants had been “strongly provoked.”
Thousands of migrants move to the area each year to help with the seasonal fruit harvest. Living in improvised dormitories, including abandoned factories and huts, they earn as little as euro20-euro25 ($30-37.50) in a dawn-to-dusk work day. Often without work permits, they do jobs many Italians shun, despite chronic underemployment in the poorly developed south.
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni convened a special meeting to discuss the rioting. Afterward, the ministry created a task force to deal with the violence and “aspects linked to the exploitation of illegal labor and health care” for the migrants.
Calabria also is the base of the international crime syndicate called ‘ndrangheta. The unrest follows a recent decision by the Italian authorities to increase police numbers in Reggio Calabria after a weekend bomb blast damaged a courthouse in what was seen as a move by the mob to intimidate magistrates.
The combination of ethnic strife and organized crime has sparked violence before among migrant communities in southern Italy. In 2008, migrants rioted in the Naples area after six Ghanians were murdered in a gangland-style shooting blamed on the local Camorra crime syndicate.
Ariel David reported from Rome. Associated Press reporter Marco Pedersini contributed to this report from Rome.