TIME Italy

Italy Has a New President

Sergio Mattarella attends a meeting in Rome
Sergio Mattarella attends a meeting in Rome, in this April 22, 2007 file picture. Italian lawmakers elected Sergio Mattarella, a constitutional court judge and veteran centre-left politician, as president. Remo Casilli—Reuters

The election of the former center-left minister is considered a win for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi

Italian lawmakers elected Sergio Mattarella, a Constitutional Court justice widely considered to be above the political fray, as the nation’s new president on the third day of voting Saturday.

Mattarella’s election as head of state was clinched when he amassed 505 votes — a simple majority. As the count continued, the 73-year-old former minister with center-left political roots went on to garner 665 votes from the 1,009 eligible electors.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pushed hard for Mattarella’s election, and some of Renzi’s rebellious Democrats had protested that the premier had imposed his choice on them. So Mattarella’s victory is also a win for Renzi in his bid to close fractious ranks, including former Communists, in the governing coalition’s main party.

Supporters of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right opposition forces had said they would cast blank ballots in protest. While acknowledging Mattarella’s credentials to be the guarantor the Constitution and arbiter in political crises were acceptable in principle, they resented how Renzi didn’t reach out to Berlusconi to achieve consensus on the candidate.

Mattarella raised largely ignored conflict-of-interest concerns when media mogul Silvio Berlusconi jumped into politics two decades ago, and a few years earlier resigned as education minister in one of Giulio Andreotti’s government because of legislation that helped Berlusconi transform several local TV channels into a business empire including Italy’s three main private TV networks.

Mattarella, a Sicilian, was first elected to Parliament in 1983. His Christian Democrat party was swept away by the Clean Hands corruption probes of the 1990s, but Mattarella was unscathed.

His older brother, Piersanti Mattarella, governor of Sicily, was killed in 1980 by the Mafia.

TIME Syria

Human Smugglers Turn to Cargo Ships to Ferry Fleeing Syrians

Italy Migrants Stranded at Sea
Migrants wait after disembarking from the cargo ship Ezadeen, carrying hundreds of migrants, in the southern Italian port of Corigliano, Italy, on Jan. 3, 2015 Antonino D'Urso—AP

Syrians are paying $4,000 to $8,000 just to get to Italy by cargo ships

(ABOARD THE COAST GUARD CUTTER TYR) —The crew was about to dig into dinner when word of the “ghost ship” came through: a freighter hurtling out of control toward Italy with no crew — and hundreds of Syrians as cargo.

The cattle freighter — its animal pens crammed with families — was on a collision course with the Italian coast, and the refugee who had phoned authorities from on board said the cabin’s controls were jammed. The Tyr changed course and set off on a race against time.

The rescue operation by the Icelandic cutter Tyr was one of the most perilous in a string of high-seas dramas that point to a new modus operandi among smugglers who send migrants across the Mediterranean. Gangs buy scrapyard-bound cargo ships over the Internet and pack them with Syrians willing to pay top dollar to flee their ravaged homeland. The ships are then pointed toward Europe and abandoned, the migrants’ fate hanging between shipwreck and rescue.

Until recently, most migrants paid several hundred dollars for a trip aboard an old fishing boat, dinghy or speedboat. Hundreds of men, women and children perish every year in those voyages when their unseaworthy vessels capsize in stormy seas.

The war in Syria, which has driven more than 3 million people into flight, has offered a new, lucrative opportunity for smugglers. Comparatively well-off refugees are able to pay higher prices for passage on bigger, safer ships from the far eastern Mediterranean directly to Italy, from where they then cross overland to central and northern European countries.

Many of those Syrians are willing to pay $4,000-$8,000 for a place on board a seaworthy cargo ship. For the gangs, that means that even if they lose a cargo ship that cost them a half-million dollars they can still earn millions of dollars in profit in a single trip.

Buying a cargo ship is a lot easier and cheaper than it used to be. A crisis in merchant shipping has left a glut of cargo ships on the market, with low demand depressing prices and making an aging vessel particularly affordable to criminal gangs, said a Greek merchant marine ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

The EU border agency Frontex says about 15 cargo ships smuggling asylum-seekers have tried to reach Europe since August. Frontex spokeswoman Izabella Cooper said one vessel that arrived in Italy recently appeared to have been bought online from a scrapyard.

The cargo ship method is not likely to go away any time soon because of high demand. In Turkey alone, more than 1 million Syrians are fending for themselves without jobs or basic services — many of them doctors or lawyers who can afford to pay thousands of dollars for a cargo ship berth, said Metin Corabatir, who heads the Ankara-based Research Center on Asylum and Migration.

“We shall be seeing a lot more of these ships,” Corabatir said. “These people have no future and often the only option they have is to leave. They will give everything that they have and risk their lives.”

One of the smugglers’ latest innovations is to select refugees with seafaring experience and put them in charge of the ship — offering them a steep discount in exchange for navigating. That means that the traffickers can remain safely ashore.

“There were no smugglers on board. There was no pilot on board. Even the crew, they weren’t the crew,” said Moutassem Yazbek, a Syrian who was rescued from a cargo ship by Frontex in December. “They were like me, refugees.”

But when a cattle freighter named the Ezadeen put out a distress call on New Year’s Eve, it didn’t even have a makeshift crew of migrants.

The Icelandic cutter Tyr was 20 miles (30 kilometers) away. But when it reached the stricken ship just after dark, Capt. Halldor Nellett knew there was no way to board the Sierra Leone-flagged freighter. It was tearing along at a speed of 9 knots on choppy seas whipped up by gale-force winds — with nobody at the controls.

They contacted the ship by radio, and the woman who answered in English said she couldn’t turn off the engines because the smugglers had wrecked the controls before leaving. The masked smugglers had locked the 359 migrants — including 42 women and 62 children — below deck in pens that looked like jail cells. They broke out once they realized the crew had abandoned them.

The Tyr shadowed the boat as it steamed closer to the Italian coast, powerless to stop it.

And then suddenly the Ezadeen’s engines sputtered to a halt, and the ship went dark.

Robbed of momentum, the ship began listing in the high seas and the Icelanders sprang into action. Trained to rescue stricken fishing trawlers in the icy, storm-tossed waters of the north Atlantic, a four-man boarding team sped across the rough waters on the Tyr’s launch to reach the freighter.

An Italian coast guard helicopter showed up, lowering several officers to try to restart the ship’s engines, but it was no use — the fuel tanks were dry.

On board, hundreds of desperate migrants clutched suitcases and pleaded to be taken off the dark, lurching freighter that had been their prison for days.

The Icelanders could provide water, food and medical care, but explained through English speakers in the crowd that there was no way they could ferry 300 people over to their ship across choppy seas at night.

They promised to get everyone to Italy, somehow. And they did: When morning came the weather cleared, and the ship was towed to Italy.

From there, they began a new adventure seeking family and friends in northern Europe.

TIME Travel

The 9 Most Spectacular Lost Cities in the World

These sites are famous for their beautifully preserved ruins

One day in the incomprehensibly distant future, our descendants will gaze upon the ruins of the Statue of Liberty or the Mall of America, and ask, “Mommy, what is that?” Over the course of human history, an astonishing number of cities and towns have been lost, drowned, abandoned, and leaving us with mysterious, and often beautiful, ruins. Here are some of the world’s most spectacular lost cities.

  • Chernobyl’s Ghost Cities, Ukraine

    A decayed house in Chernobyl, Belarus on July 9, 2014.
    A decayed house in Chernobyl, Belarus on July 9, 2014. Pacific Press—LightRocket via Getty Images

    After the worst nuclear disaster in history, the Soviet Union evacuated the towns near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, including the Ukrainian city of Pryp’yat. Twenty years later, the city still stands, ghostly, overgrown, filled with wild animals. No one lives there anymore, but you can take a day trip.

    More at Atlas Obscura.

  • Termessos, Turkey

    View of the Greek theatre of Termessos in Gullukdagi National Park, Turkey on Jan. 1, 2003.
    View of the Greek theatre of Termessos in Gullukdagi National Park, Turkey on Jan. 1, 2003. DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI—De Agostini/Getty Images

    Like a real-life Game of Thrones fortress, the Eagle’s Nest was an impenetrable city 1,000 meters up a mountain. Even Alexander the Great, rampaging through Turkey, bypassed it rather than try to conquer it. But the Eagle’s Nest lost its water supply around 200 CE and was abandoned. It has been left essentially untouched for the last 1800 years.

    More at Atlas Obscura.

  • The Sunken City of Baia, Italy

    Roman thermal complex in the Archaeological Park of Baia in the Campania region of Italy on April 8, 2014.
    Roman thermal complex in the Archaeological Park of Baia in the Campania region of Italy on April 8, 2014. DEA / S. VANNINI—De Agostini/Getty Images

    Baia was the Las Vegas of the Roman Empire, a hedonistic vacation town of villas and spas. Sacked and abandoned, the city was eventually submerged in a bay near Naples. Today you can tour it in glass-bottom boats or by scuba, and see amazingly well-preserved underwater buildings and statues.

    More at Atlas Obscura.

  • The Gedi Ruins, Kenya

    Architectural ruins at the Gedi Historical Monument in Kenya on June 13, 2012.
    Architectural ruins at the Gedi Historical Monument in Kenya on June 13, 2012. Brian Miller—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty

    One of the great mysteries of African archeology, Gedi was a large, advanced city on the Kenyan coast. It had flush toilets—more than 600 years ago!—but has been abandoned for centuries.

    More at Atlas Obscura.

  • Ani Ghost City, Turkey

    Once a rival to Baghdad and Constantinople, this medieval Armenian city of 200,000 was sacked and abandoned 500 years ago. The skeletal remains—many of them churches—are ghostly and incredibly beautiful.

    More at Atlas Obscura.

  • Geamana, Romania

    The former village of Geamana was engulfed by the copper exploitation residues, shown near the village of Lupsa, Romania on Sept. 20, 2011.
    The former village of Geamana was engulfed by the copper exploitation residues, shown near the village of Lupsa, Romania on Sept. 20, 2011. DANIEL MIHAILESCU—AFP/Getty Images

    A cute Romanian town. A picturesque valley. And then, in 1978, they found copper. The Communist dictatorship evacuated Geamana and dumped a flood of toxic sludge into the valley, drowning the town and creating a garish, poisonous lake. A few of the town buildings remain visible, roofs jutting out above the waterline.

    More at Atlas Obscura.

  • The Lost City of Heracleion, Egypt

    One of the world’s greatest port cities and the gateway to Egypt, Thonis-Heracleion sank into the Mediterranean Sea more than 2,200 years ago. Now nearly three miles off the coast of Egypt, the city was rediscovered by a French archeologist in 2000. Its submerged ruins include eerie 16-foot high statues, tiny sarcophagi holding animal sacrifices, and a huge temple.

    More at Atlas Obscura.

  • Nan Madol Ruins

    The ancient ruins of Nan Madol on Pohnpei Island, Micronesia on Jan. 28, 2008.
    The ancient ruins of Nan Madol on Pohnpei Island, Micronesia on Jan. 28, 2008. Stephen L. Alvarez—National Geographic/Getty Images

    Just off the coast of a small island in Micronesia is an artificial archipelago—more than 100 man-made islands filled with houses, warehouses, and royal buildings. Erected 800 years ago, but abandoned for hundreds of years, Nan Madol also inspired the novelist HP Lovecraft, whose malevolent deity Cthulhu hibernated in a submerged South Pacific city.

    More at Atlas Obscura.

  • Neversink

    The most ironically named place in the United States, the upstate New York town of Neversink was founded in 1798 and grew to a population 2,000. Then, in 1953, New York City needed a new reservoir, and Neversink was sunk—flooded to form the Neversink reservoir.

    More at Atlas Obscura.

    This article was written by David Plotz for Atlas Obscura.

TIME Italy

Freed Aid Workers Return to Italy Amid Anger at Suspected Ransom Paid to Militants

Italian aid workers abducted in Syria last summer, Greta Ramelli (L) and Vanessa Marzullo arrive at Ciampino airport in Rome early on Jan. 16, 2015.
Italian aid workers abducted in Syria last summer, Greta Ramelli (L) and Vanessa Marzullo arrive at Ciampino airport in Rome early on Jan. 16, 2015. Filippo Monteforte—AFP/Getty Images

Vanessa Marzullo and Greta Ramelli were abducted from the Syrian town of Aleppo in July

The two kidnapped Italian aid workers landed in Rome at four on Friday morning. They looked subdued, huddled in their parkas, as the Italian foreign minister escorted them through the darkness between the plane and the arrival hall.

The two women, Vanessa Marzullo, 21, and Greta Ramelli, 20, had been abducted from the Syrian town of Aleppo in July. They had most recently been seen in a YouTube video posted on December 31, dressed in black veils and warning that they were “in big danger and could be killed.” But even as their release offered a glimmer of good news from a conflict that has been unrelentingly grim, they have hardly returned to a hero’s welcome.

In the newspapers and on social media, the rescue of the aid workers was subject to flurries of criticism after a Dubai-based media outlet reported that the Italian government paid a 12-million euro ($13.8 million) ransom for their release. “I’m happy that the girls are free and alive,” says Riccardo Pelliccetti, a top editor at the conservative daily Il Giornale. “But the fact remains that when you bow to blackmail, you’ve lost the game.”

The outpouring of anger represented a rare moment of debate in Italy over negotiating with terrorist groups that hold hostages. The United States and Great Britain have refused to pay ransoms, and citizens of those countries — including the journalist James Foley and British aid worker David Haines — may have been executed as a result. Even so, the kidnapping groups do very well out of the ransoms that are paid. An investigation by the New York Times in July found that Al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups had taken in at least $125 million in money paid in ransoms since 2008, most it from European countries.

Italy, by contrast, has a long tradition of being willing to do nearly anything in order to save a hostage’s life, says Sergio Fabbrini, a professor of political science and international relations at Rome’s LUISS University. When leftist terrorists kidnapped the former prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978, many close to the government wanted to negotiate his release. “There is a common understanding in Italy that life is the superior value, so everything should be done in order to save people,” he says. “Our Catholic attitude tends to hold life as an absolute.”

The Italian government has neither confirmed nor denied that a ransom had been paid in exchange for the release of the aid workers. In remarks to Parliament, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni dismissed the reports as “speculation.” He said that Italy was “against paying ransoms” and added that the country had acted within international norms and in line with the polices of previous Italian governments, but he stopped short of categorically stating that a ransom had not been paid.

Some of the criticism was politically motivated. Matteo Salvini, head of the far-right Northern League, an opposition party, tweeted on Thursday that if the government had indeed paid a ransom it would be “disgusting.” But the anger could also be seen on the website of Corriere Della Sera, the closest thing Italy has to a paper of record. The headline — “Greta and Vanessa in Italy” — was sober and the article was factual, but the comment section was full of bile — in particular over the money being spent.

“If these two young ladies wanted to do something good, they could have gone to distribute meals at the cafeteria of [the Catholic charity] Caritas,” read the top-ranked comment. “Or is that not cool enough?????” The website asks readers to click on an icon representing their mood after reading an article. As the day progressed, the percentage of respondents who had selected the angry face hovered at just below 90%.

Many commenters described the two women as naive. They had been kidnapped just days after entering Syria for the second time, during a period in the war when entering the country had become synonymous with danger. They were working for an NGO they had founded with another Italian. “It’s one thing if a journalist goes into Syria to inform, as part of his job, or if a technician goes to Nigeria to work on the oil wells, but these were volunteers,” says Il Giornale’s Pelliccetti. “They went in knowingly, at a moment when there was a civil conflict.”

In an article in the morning’s paper ​Pelliccetti estimated that the Italian government has paid 61 million euros ($70 million) to militant groups since 2004. “How many operations like [the attacks on the editorial offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo] can you fund with that type of money,” he said. “You have to consider not just how many lives you save, but how many are you killing.”

Read next: Growth of Muslim Populations in Europe Map

TIME Italy

Italian President Steps Down, Citing Age and ‘Fatigue’

Resignation of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano
Italy's President Giorgio Napolitano greets people as he leaves the Quirinal Presidential Palace in Rome, Italy on January 14, 2015. Evren Atalay—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The resignation of a seasoned ally poses a test for Italy's youngest ever prime minister, Matteo Renzi

Italy’s 89-year-old president, citing age and “signs of fatigue,” tendered his resignation on Wednesday, leaving the current Prime Minister short of one key ally in an ambitious plan to push legislative reforms through the country’s fractious parliament.

President Giorgio Napolitano cut short his second term in office after acknowledging his fading energy in an end-of-the-year address to the nation, the Wall Street Journal reports. His resignation comes as Italy’s youngest ever Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, prepared a raft of bold economic reforms aimed at lifting the nation’s economy out of a series of painful contractions.

Napolitano had gained a reputation as a seasoned politician who could corral Italy’s divided parliamentarians into voting blocs. His resignation itself is expected to open up a contentious parliamentary vote over a successor.


James Bond Car Chase Vetoed by Roman Officials

The cast of the 24th James Bond film 'Spectre' pose at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, west of London, on Dec. 4, 2014. Ben Stansall—AFP/Getty Images

They fear damage to city monuments

Rome’s cultural heritage officials have vetoed plans to film a high-speed car chase at the famous Quattro Fontane (Four Fountains) crossroads as part of the next James Bond film, local media reports.

Producers of Spectre reportedly hoped to shoot a sequence in which Daniel Craig, playing Bond for the fourth time, would race his Aston Martin around Rome in a night-time chase through the narrow streets near the Vatican and past the Fountains intersection in the city center.

Federica Galloni, a city official, told Il Messaggero newspaper: “We have not authorized the sequence at the Quattro Fontane because it is too fragile in terms of architecture.” She added that filmmakers have been asked to create the same sequence with special effects, rather than shooting there.

The 16th-century fountains are currently undergoing a restoration costing over $400,000 which is due to be completed late February. A source close to the production team told The Times that this added to the risks of filming there, saying “any damage would run to millions and it could also push the insurance too high.”

[Il Messaggero]

TIME viral

Watch a Grown Man Ask a Little Boy to Hit a Girl

This Italian domestic violence PSA has been viewed more than 33 million times on Facebook

Another day, another shameless stunt designed to inflame the internet rage machine. This time, it’s an Italian PSA about domestic violence, in which the grown-up interviewers ask little boys to hit a girl they just met on the street.

Newsflash: they refuse.

The video, which has racked up more than 33 million views and 28,000 comments on Facebook, was made by Italian media company Ciaopeople, which runs Fanpage, an online newspaper, and YouMedia, a video service. Its intent is to bring attention to Italy’s domestic violence problem. Domestic battery is the most pervasive form of violence against Italian women. More than 31% of Italian women between 16 and 70 have faced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, according to a 2012 UN report. Male-on-male murders have decreased in Italy since the early 1990s, while the number of women murdered by men has increased. Former Prime Minister Enrico Letta enacted a 12-point decree in 2013 to help strengthen penalties for abusers and protections for victims, in an effort to curb the growing numbers of murdered women, which he called “femicide.”

The video has sparked some serious debate with thousands of users weighing in on key domestic violence issues. Positive Facebook comments praised the young men’s moral character and called the video inspiring and heartwarming. But other commenters pointed out out that the video should be against all violence, not just violence against women. Other viewers pointed out that they interviewer asked the boys to “caress” the girl without her consent.

And still others noted that randomly hitting a female stranger because someone tells you to is not a good analogy for domestic violence since most abuse happens in the home, with an intimate partner, and within the context of a long relationship. Plus, these boys seem super uncomfortable with the whole scenario, as does the girl for that matter.




TIME Italy

Italian Navy Rescues 450 Migrants Adrift on the Mediterranean

The group of mostly Syrian refugees were in a ship which had lost power

The Italian coast guard has taken control of a ship on Friday which was spotted adrift off the coast of Italy after being abandoned by its crew, the BBC reports. The Ezadeen, which is carrying some 450 migrants, was apparently headed for the coast before it lost power.

News of the second abandoned ship comes just two days after nearly 1,000 migrants were rescued from another vessel, the Blue Sky M, earlier this week.

The Ezadeen was sailing under the flag of Sierra Leone but most of the migrants on board are believed to be Syrian. Commander Filippo Marini of the Italian Coast Guard said the 240-ft Ezadeen, a livestock carrier built in 1966, probably set sail from Turkey toward France.

It is now being towed by an Icelandic ship belonging to the E.U. Frontex border control mission, which was launched after Italy wound down its search-and-rescue operation, Mare Nostrum, in November. The Italian coast guard said the ship is being towed to the southern Italian port of Crotone.


TIME Italy

Charred Greek Ferry Towed to Italy Overnight

Greece Ferry Fire
Rescue equipment is unloaded from a helicopter aboard the Norman Atlantic on Dec. 28, 2014 AP

Firefighters and a prosecutor will then board the wreck to search for bodies

(BRINDISI, ITALY) — The charred wreck of a Greek ferry has reached an Italian port after an overnight tow across choppy Adriatic seas, and authorities will soon board to search for any more bodies from the blaze that killed at least 11 people.

Tugboat company owner Giuseppe Barretta told The Associated Press in Brindisi port that authorities were meeting Friday morning to see exactly where it should dock.

Firefighters and a prosecutor will then board the wreck to search for bodies and the cause of the blaze that broke out Sunday.

Towing began Thursday afternoon and took nearly 17 hours.

Italy says 477 people were rescued, mostly by daring helicopter rescues that plucked survivors off the top deck one or two at a time in gale-force winds

TIME Italy

98 Passengers of the Adriatic Ferry Are Still Unaccounted for

Greece Ferry Fire
In this image taken from a Dec. 28, 2014 video and made available Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014 passengers of the Italian-flagged ferry Norman Atlantic wait to be rescued after it caught fire in the Adriatic Sea. AP—AP

Authorities have no idea whether they have been killed, rescued or even boarded the vessel

Ninety-eight passengers of the Greek-operated Norman Atlantic ferry that caught fire in the Adriatic Sea on Sunday have not been accounted for, according a justice official in the Italian port of Bari.

Associated Press reports that it is uncertain whether the missing passengers boarded the Italian-made vessel, or were killed in the disaster, or rescued.

Bari prosecutor Giuseppe Volpe told the Italian ANSA news agency that he hoped that Greek authorities would be able to establish how many people had been rescued by various ships and brought to Greece.

Eleven people are known to have died as a result of the fire, while hundreds of survivors have been plucked from the sea. However, the total number of passengers aboard the ill-fated vessel — which was sailing from Greece to Italy when the fire broke out — has still not been established.

Greece’s merchant marine ministry has accused Italy of botching the identification of the rescued and missing. “The information forwarded to us so far by Italian authorities contains names listed twice and misspellings in the names registered,” it said.

Meanwhile, poor weather hampered efforts Wednesday to tow the ferry to Italy for an investigation and a search that could turn up more dead.

The Italian captain has been questioned by the authorities in Bari, who refuse to divulge further details pending the results of their investigations.

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