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U.S. warns citizens about Italy base protest

Reuters | February 16, 2007

ROME - The U.S. embassy in Rome has advised its citizens to steer clear of Italy's northeastern city of Vicenza during a planned February 17 demonstration against the expansion of a U.S. military base in the area.

In a warning posted on its Web site, the embassy said up to 70,000 people from various leftist groups could take part in the protest.

"Although violence is not expected, some of the groups who may participate in the protest have been disruptive in the past," it said.

"U.S. citizens are advised to avoid Vicenza's town center and military base areas from February 16, 2007 to February 18, 2007 to avoid becoming targets of opportunity for anti-U.S. protesters," it said.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said last month that Italy would not object to U.S. plans to expand the base despite opposition from some parties in his centre-left coalition.

The Pentagon wants to double the size of the base, home of the U.S. Southern European Task Force, to unite its 173rd Airborne Brigade and expand its 2,750 military personnel to 4,500.

At present, the rapid reaction unit is spread among the base at Vicenza, about 400 km (250 miles) north of Rome, and bases at Bamburg and Schweinfurt in Germany.

The new barracks would be on the other side of Vicenza from the existing one.

That has raised worries about new roads to handle military traffic linking the two parts, loss of green space and strains on public services.

Opponents also argue the base could militarize the prosperous city of 115,000 and make it a target for terrorist attacks.

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