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Protesters rally around migrant-supporting Italian mayor

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Protesters rally around migrant-supporting Italian mayor
In this 2011 file photo taken Domenico Lucano poses in his office with a young girl from Ethiopia. Photo: MARIO LAPORTA / AFP
02:55 CEST+02:00
Saturday saw protesters gather in Riace – a small hamlet in Italy's deep south which has earned praise for its integration of migrants – demanding the release of their leftist mayor.
Domenico "Mimmo" Lucano was placed under house arrest on Tuesday under suspicion of arranging "marriages of convenience" for immigrants and for allegedly skipping a tender process while awarding a garbage management contract to co-operatives with ties to migrants.
 
In office since 2004, Lucano has made headlines around the world for welcoming migrants to the sparsely-populated village in Calabria in a bid to boost jobs and development.
 
"Keep strong, continue fighting," his supporters chanted Saturday as they gathered outside his window from where he raised a fist in support.
 
In addition to the charges of aiding and abetting illegal immigration to Italy, Lucano is also accused of misconduct for allocating contracts for the town's waste collection service to two social cooperatives without a public tender; but additional charges of embezzlement, fraud against the state, and bribery have already been dropped, according to La Repubblica. 
 
The main charge arising from the investigation known as “Operation Xenia”, led by the public prosecutor for Locri and carried out by Italy's Financial Police, centres on claims that Lucano falsified documents and facilitated sham marriages so that migrants could obtain permits to remain in Italy.
 
Police say they intercepted a conversation in which the mayor can be heard conspiring to obtain residency for a Nigerian girl who has been denied status in Italy by printing her an ID card listing her as resident in Riace, and advising his interlocutors to have her married as soon as possible to an Italian citizen.
 
“To disobey these crazy laws I go against the law,” he reportedly says during the conversation.
 
Lucano and his partner Tesfahun Lemlem have been placed under house arrest.
 
Riace, a small town in the Calabrian “toe” of Italy's boot, has in recent years become a symbol of refugee hospitality in Europe and has drawn international attention for the “Riace model”, whereby migrants are given free housing in the town's abandoned homes, and money allocated by the Interior Ministry is given to social cooperatives which provide the migrants with job training and a small salary.
 
In 2016 the mayor was profiled in Fortune Magazine's list of the World's Top 50 Leaders for his role in devising the novel system.
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