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FIRE

Police bust Chinese illegal immigration ring

Italian police on Thursday arrested eleven people in connection with an alleged Chinese immigration racket in and around the Tuscan town of Prato, where seven people died in a Chinese-run clothes factory on Sunday.

Police bust Chinese illegal immigration ring
A vigil was held for the workers who died on Tuesday. Photo: Gianni Attalmi/AFP

A public official, who allegedly accepted bribes in exchange for registering illegal Chinese immigrants, is among the Italian and Chinese nationals arrested,  SKYTg24 reported.

The gang made up to €450,000 in eight months, with around 300 Chinese people paying bribes of between €600 and €1,500 in order to be registered, a police commander told the TV channel, adding that the operation was a "strong and decisive response to the tragedy of a few days ago."

Police are now probing the factory owner and three managers on suspicion of multiple manslaughter, failing to follow safety procedures and exploiting illegal workers.

It was not clear how the blaze started in the factory in the textile town of Prato, just north of Florence, where about 11 workers had been living and sleeping in close quarters on makeshift beds divided into compartments with cardboard.

Rescue workers said one of the victims had smashed a window in a bid to escape, but had been trapped behind security bars. His carbonized body was found with one arm reaching through the shattered glass.

Prato mayor Roberto Cenni called for more to be done to address the working conditions of Chinese labourers in the city.

Prato is officially home to about 17,000 Chinese nationals, according to official data from 2010, but local sources say the real figure is closer to 50,000.

The presence of the Chinese garment workers is not always welcomed in the city, where numerous Italian firms have been forced to shut as they were unable to compete with the immigrants.

Aldo Milone, the town councillor for public safety said earlier this week that 1,200 busineses have been shut down.

But warehouses closed "often pop up again elsewhere under a different name a few months later," he added.

Enrico Rossi, head of the Tuscany region, called on the Italian and Chinese governments to "take measures" against businesses "which are often victims of extortion by Chinese organised crime."

A vigil was held for those who died on Tuesday.

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STEEL

EU opens probe into ArcelorMittal purchase of Ilva

European Union anti-trust authorities have opened an investigation into global steel giant ArcelorMittal's bid to buy struggling Italian steel producer Ilva, officials said on Wednesday.

EU opens probe into ArcelorMittal purchase of Ilva
Ilva's Taranto site in southern Italy is at the centre of a huge legal case over toxic emissions. Photo: Alfonso Di Vincenzo/AFP

The €1.8 billion ($1.9-billion) deal would see ArcelorMittal join forces with Italy's Marcegaglia to snap up the heavily indebted company, which employs 14,000 people.

“The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation to assess the proposed acquisition of Ilva by ArcelorMittal under the EU merger regulation,” said the commission, the executive of the 28-nation EU.

“The Commission has concerns that the merger may reduce competition for a number of flat carbon steel products,” the commission said in a statement.

The Commission now has until 23rd March 2018 to decide on whether competition rules would be violated and approve or reject the proposed merger.

The EU's anti-trust commissioner Margrethe Vestager said European industries dependent on steel employ 30 million people and need to buy the material at competitive prices to compete globally.

“This is why we will carefully investigate the impact of ArcelorMittal's plans to buy Ilva on effective competition in steel markets,” Vestager said in the statement.

ArcelorMittal has pledged to keep at least 10,000 employees “for the entire duration of the industrial plan” following negotiations with unions.

After news first leaked of the takeover, hundreds of employees at Ilva's site in the northwestern city of Genoa staged a protest in June.

Ilva's Taranto site in southern Italy is at the centre of a huge legal case in which experts cited by prosecutors have charged that 11,550 people have died from toxic emissions in seven years.

Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo has planned to join the consortium before the deal is closed.

The offer includes plans to invest €2.4 billion in Ilva, with funds earmarked for upgrading industrial equipment and improving environmental standards.

ArcelorMittal has said Ilva would be an important strategic acquisition, offering a significant presence in a country where it has no primary steelmaking capacity.