More than 1000 immigrants fled a southern Italian town after white Italian residents violently attacked African farm workers, authorities said on Sunday, in some of the worst racial violence in Italy since World War Two.
The evacuation followed three days of clashes in the southern Calabrian town of Rosarno, which began when some "white" local residents began attacking immigrants.
At least 53 people, including 18 policeman, were injured in the unrest in the town, located in Italy's southwestern toe.
Authorities moved more than 1,000 people, mostly temporary workers from sub-Saharan Africa to immigrant centres around Italy in an operation that lasted from Saturday through to the early hours of Sunday.
Even workers with regular residence permits left the town to escape a climate that one political commentator compared to the 1960s Ku Klux Klan racial violence in the United States.
Immigrants without regular papers risk expulsion to their country of origin and the authorities on Sunday began demolishing their former makeshift homes in Rosarno.
Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said the government had "brilliantly resolved the problem of public order" and thanked police for organising the exodus "in an exemplary way."
The opposition accuses the government of fuelling xenophobia.
The front page headline of the Daily Fact newspaper referred to the immigrants' departure as "Ethnic Cleansing".
Air rifle attack on Africans
The clashes started on Thursday, when a gang of white youths in a car fired air rifles at a group of African immigrants returning from work on farms, injuring two of them.
The attack set off a night of rioting by dozens of Africans. That in turn sparked more attacks from residents determined to drive the immigrants out of the area.
Last Mod: 11 Ocak 2010, 11:52
"I have never hurt anyone, I don't know why they attacked us, we are here to work," Ajra Saibu from Togo, one of the men fired at on the first night of violence.
Some 8,000 immigrants work in Calabria, most as day labourers picking fruit and vegetables.
Roberto Calderoli, a minister from the same far-right Northern League party as interior minister Maroni, said with unemployment at 18 percent in the south of Italy, "work should go to the Italians ... not to illegal immigrants".
If necessary, agricultural pay levels should be increased to make them acceptable to locals, he said in a remark that may show the official view to foreign workers in the country.
Berlusconi, who banks on the support of the far-right Northern League. a junior partner in the government coalition, last year openly rejected the vision of a multi-ethnic Italy.
Related news report:
Italian white locals "attack African farm workers" / PHOTO