The Italian government passed tough new measures on Friday stepping up prison terms for sexual attacks and approving civilian anti-crime patrols after a series of rapes blamed on foreigners.
The emergency law passed by government decree at a Cabinet meeting will mean all rape suspects will have to stay in prison while awaiting trial.
Italian Justice Minister Angelino Alfano said killings involving sexual attacks would be punished with life in jail.
“Life imprisonment will be the punishment for those guilty of homicide where there has been sexual violence,” he said.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, accused by the opposition of undermining parliament by passing measures under emergency decree, told reporters “recent events” made the new decrees necessary.
Italians have been outraged by a series of sex attacks in recent weeks, including the rape of a 14-year-old girl last Saturday in a Rome park and two other women in Bologna and Milan.
Two Eastern Europeans have been accused over the rape in Rome, while a 33-year-old Tunisian facing a deportation order allegedly raped a 15-year-old girl in Bologna and a North African is wanted for the rape of a Bolivian woman in Milan.
More lenient treatment of convicted sex offenders, such as conditional liberty, will be banned or restricted under the new order and the state will pay the victims’ legal fees, a government statement said.
The decree legalized security patrols by unarmed citizen volunteers. Such patrols are already widespread in northern Italian towns, which are controlled by the anti-immigrant Northern Alliance.
The volunteers will be under the authority of local mayors and only be allowed to carry walkie-talkie radios to alert police if they see an incident. The Vatican and Italy’s center-left opposition has condemned the new measures.
Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants, denounced an “abdication of the state of law,” while the leftist opposition claimed the citizens’ patrols risked transforming Italy into a new “Far West.”
Since his return to power last year, Berlusconi has backed increasingly repressive measures to reinforce security and fight illegal immigration, ratcheting up tensions with the left, the Roman Catholic Church and European institutions.