ROME — The European Commission warned Italy on Saturday it may face sanctions if it doesn't remove the 2,400 tons of trash that have piled up in the streets of Naples in the country's latest garbage crisis.
For over a week, protesters in Terzigno, a small town near Naples, have torched vehicles, burned Italian flags and hurled stones and firecrackers at police to protest the stench and filth at a local dump and plans to open a new one in Vesuvio National Park.
Clashes continued overnight and residents around Naples set fire to heaps of trash. The situation around Terzigno was calm Saturday, but protesters did occupy a train station for a few hours, news reports said.
Pope Benedict XVI chimed in Saturday with words of support for residents, saying he was spiritually close to them and was praying for a "fair and mutually-agreed upon solution to the problem," according to a message received by the local diocese.
European Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said the violence between residents and police over where to dump Naples' waste showed that Italy hasn't taken sufficient measures since the last garbage crisis flared in 2007.
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has promised a swift solution to the mess, saying the government will take over management of the dump and pledging euro14 million ($20 million) in compensation to residents.
Naples and surrounding areas have suffered garbage crises for years, the result of corruption, poor management and infiltration by the local mob. Three years ago, Berlusconi intervened to help ease an emergency caused when collectors stopped picking up trash because dumps were full and residents were protesting the creation of new ones.
Potocnik said the latest pileup showed that the government still hadn't taken definitive measures to resolve the garbage problem.
"The Campania Region still has no waste management plan and the Acerra incinerator, the only one existing in Campania, is not functioning properly and (is) at full capacity," Potocnik said in a statement. "This means that in Campania, the authorities are neither able to carry out a program to dispose of the old baled waste nor to manage the new daily waste production."
In March, the European Court of Justice found that Italy was in breach of EU rules for having failed to set up sufficient waste disposal infrastructure. Potocnik warned sanctions could be next if the EU sends the case back to the Court of Justice.
Berlusconi's disaster chief and garbage czar, Guido Bertolaso, chided the EU for its criticism.
"The EU would do well to do its job, and rather than pass judgment, give us a hand to find an alternative," the ANSA news agency quoted Bertolaso as saying.
Later though, Bertolaso said he welcomed an EU fact-finding mission which Potocnik had said was under consideration. Bertolaso said that within a week the EU would find a clean city.
Government ministers and politicians blamed the local mafia, the Camorra, for being behind the crisis. Giuseppe Pisanu, a former interior minister who heads Parliament's anti-mafia commission, said there was a "serious interference" of the Camorra in Naples' garbage collection.
"We have to create the structural conditions so that the problem is resolved at its roots," he said, according to ANSA.