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POLITICS

Italy’s Calabria region turns to war relief charity as third health commissioner quits

Faced with a dysfunctional health system and the resignations of three local leaders in quick succession, Italy's poorest region has turned to a charity more accustomed to working in warzones to help tackle the coronavirus crisis.

Italy's Calabria region turns to war relief charity as third health commissioner quits
Hospitals in the southern Calabria region have long struggled due to mismanagement and mafia infiltration. AFP
International NGO Emergency, which specialises in providing healthcare to victims of war, poverty and landmines, has agreed to help out in Calabria, including by providing field hospitals.
 
But its surgeon founder Gino Strada, a veteran of health crises in Sudan and Rwanda, denied he was being lined up as the next health commissioner for the
southern region after a series of chaotic postings and departures.
 
Calabria – the toe of Italy's “boot” – was spared the worst when the country became the first in Europe to be hit by coronavirus earlier this year.
 
 
But as cases again rise nationwide, with more than 32,000 recorded on Tuesday, Calabria has been placed under the government's toughest “red zone” restrictions.
 
Doctor shortages, chronic mismanagement and the pervasive infiltration by the 'Ndrangheta, Italy's most powerful organised crime syndicate, have weighed
for decades on the local health system.
 
Emergency charity director Gino Strada, who says he is not being lined up as the latest health commissioner, after three quit in the past few weeks. AFP
 
In recent weeks, the system has also become a byword for managerial incompetence, as not one but three local health commissioners have quit.
 
Eugenio Gaudio, a doctor and former rector of Rome's prestigious La Sapienza university, stepped down on Tuesday after barely a day in the post, saying his wife did not want to move to Calabria.
 
His predecessor, Giuseppe Zuccatelli, quit on Monday after a furore over remarks he made questioning the usefulness of masks, which are mandatory in all public places in Italy.
 
Zuccatelli also suggested coronavirus could only be passed on by kissing someone “with tongues” for at least 15 or 20 minutes.
 
He hadn't been in place for long either, after replacing Saverio Cotticelli, who was fired in early November after a television interview in which he appeared unaware that it was his job to develop a plan to tackle coronavirus.
 
In an interview on Wednesday, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte apologised to the people of Calabria, saying “they deserve a response after years of poor
health management”.
 
The emergency entrance of Locri hospital in the Calabria region. AFP
 
He told La Stampa newspaper that the government had agreed Emergency would start immediate operations in Calabria “with field hospitals, Covid hospitals and triage operations”.
 
'Old problems'
 
The head of Federconsumatori, a leading consumer organisation, condemned the rotating cast of local leaders in Calabria in an open letter Tuesday to the government.
 
“For more than 10 years, Calabria has been experiencing a dramatic situation in its health system,” Emilio Viafora said.
 
“Its people have not been able to benefit from health services that other Italians have access to – a situation made even worse by the crisis of the pandemic.”
 
Health policy is usually controlled by Italy's regions, but for the last decade the central government in Rome has run services in Calabria.
 
The region, Italy's poorerst, has the highest rate of unemployment at 21 percent in 2019 compared with 10 percent nationally. Among young people it is 30.6 percent, compared with 14.8 percent nationwide.
 
“The health system in southern Italy lacks structure and trained personnel,” Fabio Amatucci, affiliate professor of government and health at the University of Bocconi in Milan, told AFP.
 
“These are old problems that cannot be solved in a few months.”

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POLITICS

Italian prosecutors seek six-year jail term for Berlusconi in ‘Ruby ter’ trial

Italy’s billionaire former premier Silvio Berlusconi is once instead again facing the threat of criminal sanction over his notorious ‘bunga-bunga’ sex parties.

Italian prosecutors seek six-year jail term for Berlusconi in 'Ruby ter' trial

Milan prosecutors on Wednesday requested six years in jail for the 85-year-old for allegedly paying guests to lie about the parties in the third instalment of the so-called ‘Ruby’ affair, named after the underage exotic dancer at the centre of the case.

Berlusconi denies wrongdoing, and even if convicted has little chance of going to jail due to a long appeals process and restrictions against imprisoning the elderly.

Around 20 former guests of the infamous parties at Berlusconi’s mansion near Milan are also on trial, accused of accepting money and gifts from the media mogul in return for their silence.

Young women who attended would later describe the events as sex parties, but Berlusconi always insisted they were nothing more than elegant, “convivial” dinners.

“These young women were assured that they would be OK both in terms of income, with a 2,500-euro ($2,677) monthly payment, and for a roof, a house, accommodation,” prosecutor Luca Gaglio told the court in his summing up on Wednesday.

Previously, fellow prosecutor Tiziana Siciliano accused Berlusconi of hiring “sex slaves”.

READ ALSO: ‘Deeply disappointed’: Italy’s Berlusconi breaks silence over friend Putin

Berlusconi’s lawyers insist payments amounting to millions of euros were compensation for the reputational damage suffered by the women from the scandal.

The former prime minister is among 29 people accused in the trial, including Karima El-Mahroug, the Moroccan teenager and dancer who used the name “Ruby”, for whom prosecutors asked for five years in jail.

The verdict is expected in the autumn.

The investigations date back to El-Mahroug’s arrest for theft in 2010 – and Berlusconi’s intervention for police to release her.

Each time, Berlusconi has emerged victorious – eventually.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2013 for paying for sex with El-Mahroug, but the verdict was overturned on appeal after the judge said there was reasonable doubt he knew she was underage.

Former Italian Prime Minister and leader of the Forza Italia party Silvio Berlusconi during a rally in Rome on March 9, 2022. Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE / AFP

A second trial, named “Ruby-bis” (Ruby Two), ended in jail terms for Berlusconi’s close allies for supplying young prostitutes.

The Ruby-ter (Ruby Three) trials are spread out across several Italian cities, including in Siena, where Berlusconi was cleared last October of bribing a piano player to lie about the parties.

Berlusconi and his allies have long claimed the extensive legal proceedings against him in recent decades – he claimed in 2021 he had gone through 86 trials – are politically motivated.

He has never spent any time behind bars but in 2013, with his first definitive conviction for tax fraud, he carried out community service in a care home for Alzheimer’s patients.

Berlusconi was prime minister three times between 1994 and 2011 and remains active in politics, although his career is reaching its twilight.

He most recently made headlines with a failed bid to become president in January.

His Forza Italia party is part of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s coalition government but is languishing in the polls.

He has also been plagued by health problems, saying he almost died after being hospitalised with coronavirus in September 2020.

After recovering in hospital, he famously told reporters: “Once again, I got away with it”.

Last year, he was again hospitalised in Milan and Monaco, reportedly due to problems with his heart, a fall at home, and the after-effects of Covid.

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