Joined: 03 May 2005
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Naples bans motorbikes and scooters in battle against bag snatchers and the Mafia
By Bruce Johnston in Rome
For decades, the noise of Italian stallions bumping their Vespas down the country's cobbled streets at all hours has been part of the national soundtrack.
In Naples, however, the distinctive sound of the scooters is to disappear after they were banned from entering the centre of Italy's southern capital.
The problem is not congestion, or even noise pollution, but crime: scooters have become the getaway of choice for bag-snatchers and the favoured vehicle for ride-by attacks by the Mafia.
Disguised beneath crash helmets, thieves and hitmen attack their victims before weaving away through traffic jams and narrow alleyways.
Last Tuesday, urged on by local magistrates, squads of police officers erected a series of roadblocks around the tourist-packed Decumani district, a maze-like area at the heart of Naples that dates back to Greco-Roman times.
On pain of a 71 (48) fine, riders must now disembark and push their scooters - and, indeed, motorbikes - through the centre unless they can prove that they live inside the restricted area.
"Our goal is to give tourists and citizens more security," said Nicola Oddati, Naples' councillor for traffic. "We cannot have people visiting our city coming under attack, and then returning home with a bad image of a stunning city that is marred by a backdrop of lawless violence."
In recent weeks scooters have been used in a spate of high-profile crimes, including the murder of Emilio Albanese, 69, whose daughter goes out with the son of the playwright Dario Fo.
Mr Albanese, a retired engineer, was fatally beaten outside his house by two youths who followed him home after he withdrew a large sum of money from his bank. His killers made their escape by scooter.
An Austrian tourist was recently robbed of a Rolex watch worth 10,000 (6,800) by thieves on two wheels, while a senior police officer was injured after he tried to retrieve his wife's handbag and was dragged along by the getaway scooter.
Other measures introduced to tackle crime include restrictions on the sale of pocket knives and deploying plainclothes police officers on their own, specially souped-up, pursuit scooters. Although the City Hall says their scooter ban is a success, claiming that opportunistic bag-snatches all but disappeared the day after it was introduced, it drew howls of protest from Italy's Two Wheels Association.
It believes that law-abiding scooter users are being penalised over what is essentially a law and order problem. "Legality is restored in other ways," said a spokesman, "such as by trying to deprive delinquents, and not honest citizens, of their liberty."
Pietro Diodato, an opposition councillor with the far-Right Alleanza Nazionale, said: "The administration is out of its mind. It is paradoxical that in order to crack down on delinquency, the rights of ordinary upright citizens are being further eroded."
Italy's love affair with the scooter dates back to 1946, when the engineer Enrico Piaggio unveiled its first ever incarnation, the Vespa, at Rome Golf Club.
A slick mass-marketing campaign - "Vespizzatevi", or "Vespa yourselves!" - enshrined it as an enduring symbol of the post-war good life. In 1949, a Miss Graziella Bontempo from Naples was elected the first Miss Vespa.
Today, however, scooters are also a constant reminder to three million Naples residents of the city's inability to solve the long-running problem of crime. The Mafia is currently engaged in a murderous feud over drug markets that has claimed more than 100 lives since last year.
In one recent incident, two hitmen riding a scooter gravely injured Vincenzo Del Mastro, 25, a suspected Mafia member, and shot a 58-year-old passer-by in the leg.
The scooter ban will run for a two-month "probation period".
If it proves effective, there are plans to extend it to other crime-plagued areas.
I lived in Naples from 1970 - 1974. It is hard to believe a Naples with out two wheeled scooters. More so, merchants haul their goods piled high
front and back on these scooters. Property theft was always bad in Naples.
The local ethic was; if you leave it out, you deserve to have it stolen.
The local girls, wore their purses, strap over shoulder and slung around the front with an arm crossed over it to avoid the drive by scooter thefts.
My Italian landord instructed me to carry my wallet in my front pocket with my hand in the pocket. Lesson, if you leave it exposed you deserve to have it stolen.
Since 1974, I have been back once in 1981. Crime was always an issue, but, only of property. Male or female could walk unaccompanied at any hour and never fear of personal injury. The ladies could be guaranteed to be whistled at and receive an occasional pinch to the behind. It appears that violent crime is up. I rode a Ducati 350 when I lived in Old Naples.
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