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Silvio Berlusconi has claimed there are 600,000 illegal immigrants living in Italy and warned that they represent a “social time bomb”, as issues of race and violence took centre-stage in the country’s election campaign.

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Silvio Berlusconi has claimed there are 600,000 illegal immigrants living in Italy and warned that they represent a “social time bomb”, as issues of race and violence took centre-stage in the country’s election campaign.

The three-times prime minister called for unauthorised migrants to be repatriated and for the creation of a Marshall Plan for Africa to create jobs that would dissuade migrants from leaving their home countries in the first place.

He made the remarks after a lone gunman went on a shooting spree in a central Italian town on Saturday, wounding six black migrants in apparent retaliation for the brutal murder and dismemberment of an Italian teenager, allegedly by a Nigerian immigrant.

Echoing the language of the hard-Right, anti-immigration League, a party he is in alliance with, Mr Berlusconi said: “In Italy today we have 630,000 migrants, of whom only 30,000, or five per cent, have the right to be here, having been recognized as refugees. The others represent a social bomb that is ready to explode. Immigration is a very urgent issue.”

Italy has been inundated with migrants and refugees, with 600,000 arriving in the last four years after being rescued in the Mediterranean, and many ordinary Italians say that enough is enough.

The car belonging to Luca Traini, the Italian man accused of opening fire on African migrants in Macerata. The car belonging to Luca Traini, the Italian man accused of opening fire on African migrants in Macerata. Credit: Reuters

It is estimated that there are around 500,000 unauthorised migrants in Italy – their applications for asylum were turned down by the state but they stayed anyway, subsisting as best they can on seasonal work, part-time jobs and begging. Many women are forced into prostitution on the streets.

There are a further 200,000 migrants who are waiting to hear whether they will be granted asylum.

Mr Berlusconi leads a centre-Right coalition that is expected to win the most votes of any political force when Italians vote in the March 4 election.

His alarmist language appeared to have been co-opted from Matteo Salvini, the leader of the League, who recently said that if he was elected prime minister one of his principal objectives would be to expel half a million migrants.

“We consider it an absolute priority to take back control of the situation,” said Mr Berlusconi, who cannot be prime minister because of a ban on holding public office resulting from a tax fraud conviction.

Political opponents accused him of commandeering the inflammatory rhetoric of the League in order to win votes.

A Glock handgun allegedly used by the gunman in Macerata. A Glock handgun allegedly used by the gunman in Macerata. Credit: AFP

“Berlusconi has aligned himself with the opinions of Salvini. This is really serious at a time when we should not be taking advantage (of the murder and shootings) in the political campaign,” said Matteo Orfini, the president of the governing Democratic Party, which is expected to be punished at the polls, in part for its liberal policies on migration.

“After the terrible events in Macerata, we say we need to calm down and reflect, whereas they want to exploit what has happened.”

He was referring to the town in central Italy where Pamela Mastropietro, an 18-year-old Italian woman, was murdered last week.

Her body was chopped up and stuffed into two suitcases, then dumped in waste ground.

A Nigerian man, an alleged drug dealer whose asylum application had been turned down, has been arrested on suspicion of the killing.

On Saturday, a 28-year-old Italian man with far-Right sympathies allegedly went on a shooting spree in Macerata, targeting six African migrants, apparently in revenge for the murder and dismemberment of Ms Mastropietro, a recovering drug addict.

Bullet holes in a glass door in the town of Macerata. Bullet holes in a glass door in the town of Macerata. Credit: AFP

Luca Traini, who is in jail awaiting trial, allegedly had far-Right sympathies – police found a copy of Mein Kampf and fascist symbols at his home.

The murder and the shootings of migrants, who came from Nigeria, Mali and Ghana, convulsed the town of Macerata, in the Marche region.

Romano Carancini, the mayor, who is a member of the centre-Left Democratic Party, said: “I won’t deny that many locals feel uncomfortable about the scourge of drug dealing.

“The murder of Pamela turned tolerance to intolerance, which is not normally part of Macerata’s character.

“Even I have become tired of these young guys who loaf around all day long, begging for money. We’ve always offered an exemplary welcome to migrants. But a lot of people are angry.”

The alleged gunman, Luca Traini. The alleged gunman, Luca Traini. Credit: AFP

A restaurant owner named Aldo told La Stampa newspaper:  “I’m not justifying the shootings, but we’ve really had enough of the Nigerian drug dealers.”

As Mr Berlusconi’s alliance becomes increasingly confident of victory in the election, 200 far-Right activists planted trees to reverse damage done to a conifer plantation that spells out the letters DUX – Latin for “Duce”, a tribute to Mussolini – on a mountainside north of Rome.

Volunteers from CasaPound, a Fascist party named after the American poet and Fascist sympathiser Ezra Pound, planted 1,000 saplings to fill in the gaps left by a wild fire that raged through the plantation last summer.

The plantation, made up of 20,000 fir trees, was created on the slopes of Monte Giano in 1939.

Intended as a living paean to Benito Mussolini, it is regarded fondly by some Italians but seen as a shameful reminder of the country’s Fascist past by others.

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