Ash clouds, roadworks, and riot fears: G7 preparations cause turmoil in Sicilian hilltop town

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Ash clouds, roadworks, and riot fears: G7 preparations cause turmoil in Sicilian hilltop town
The Greek theatre of Taormina, host city of the upcoming G7 summit. Photo: Marie-Laure Messana/AFP

Bewildered tourists step gingerly around roaring bulldozers in the picturesque Sicilian coastal city of Taormina, where preparations for an upcoming G7 summit have enraged the local population.


Soldiers stand guard at the Roman gates and in the shadow of the ancient theatre as the city prepares to go into total lockdown for the arrival on May 26th of the heads of the Group of Seven, including new US President Donald Trump.

The state has forked out more than 14 million euros ($15.4 million) to spruce up pot-holed roads and crumbling ruins, but locals say the disruption has already scared off international holidaymakers in a key month for business.

Taormina. Photo: Marie-Laure Messana/AFP

"The town looks like its been bombed. It's pure madness," restaurant owner Turi Siligato, 53, told AFP as he stood on a dust-choked street where diggers shattered old tarmac in front of shops forced to close for the roadworks.

"Tourists who see this will never come again. It is unbelievable to think of starting such large works in a season already underway. They are ruining the place," he said.

Tourists walk down a central road undergoing repairs. Photo: Francesco Faraci/AFP

The city will be in lockdown from May 13th, with cars banned and residents bussed in and out of town under guard.

Ash clouds and riots

Mayor Eligio Giardina concedes that hosting the summit - which will see the heads of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States wined, dined and serenaded by the famed La Scala orchestra - has won him no favours.

Mayor Eligio Giardina. Photo: Francesco Faraci/AFP

"I'm perhaps the most hated man in Taormina... but once it's over, and the anger is gone, the public works will remain," he said.

The Greek theatre is being cleaned after 50 years of neglect, while the main road into the city is undergoing urgent works to shore up a viaduct which Giardina says "could have collapsed at any moment".

The biggest win for this sun-drenched, cliff-top gem in eastern Sicily is the media coverage it will get, he says. But with nearby volcano Mount Etna spewing ash clouds and fears that so-called "black bloc" protesters may infiltrate anti-G7 demonstrations, it may not be plain sailing.

Soldiers on patrol outside the Duomo. Photo: Francesco Faraci/AFP

There will be 10,000 security agents patrolling the area, including nearby Giardini Naxos, a tiny resort town on the shoreline where protesters and media will be cordoned off from the main event.

"While Taormina will be the safest city in the world, I am really worried about the surrounding areas," Giardina admits.

A Sicilian toast

Demonstrators will rally in Giardini Naxos to demand protection for "the rights of the weakest in society, to defend peace, and the environment," campaigner Anna Di Salvo said.

Some of the leaders will be at their first G7, including the new French president and Britain's Theresa May, but protesters "have little hope new faces will mean things will change for the better," she said.

It is not all gloom: some have embraced the event, like the gelato makers at the Fanaberia ice cream shop who have created a "Trump Cup" in the colours of the American flag with an orange swirl on top to mimic the president's hair.

Road renovations. Photo: Francesco Faraci/AFP

"The are huge disadvantages for tourism. Cruise ships are staying away, car parks are closed, but you have to think positively," said Paolo Ando, 59, who works in the shop.

Trump is not expected to drop in to taste his namesake, because "the American 007s say the street has no escape routes" in case of an attack, he said.

"But we're not letting that stop us. We're creating a G7 cocktail as well, a light blue summer drink -- but with only a dash of alcohol or the delegations will be falling asleep around the table," he quipped.

By Ella Ide

READ ALSO: Find the latest news and features from Sicily hereIN PHOTOS: Eruptions continue at Etna after explosion that injured ten
Photo: Giovanni Isolino/AFP



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