Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States has sparked new hope for those opposed to the U.S. Army’s expansion in Vicenza, Italy.

According to Italian media reports, the city’s mayor — elected in April with strong support of those opposed to the U.S. use of the Dal Molin airfield for barracks and office space — congratulated Obama on his victory. Achille Variati was quoted in an online report by Agenzia Stampa Quotidiano Nazionale, a national news agency, as saying that many parts of the world had high hopes for his presidency "even in a small city like ours."

The report said he hoped Obama would follow the example of past American presidents such as Abraham Lincoln and follow the will of the people. The will of the people in this case — according to Variati — is for the U.S. to stop plans to occupy the base.

The city held an unofficial referendum in early September on the issue, ignoring a call from the federal government and the nation’s highest court that such a vote was a waste of time and money. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said the matter is a federal issue and has already been decided.

Three messages seeking further comment left at the mayor’s office last week were not returned.

Another report by the news agency, which uses the initials ASCA, detailed the hopes of "No Dal Molin" protesters, who said they would be adopting the slogan: "Dal Molin — Yes we can change."

Members said they planned to print up 30,000 postcards and have local opponents of the U.S. plans send them to the new U.S. president.

The U.S. and Italian governments had talked for several years about the prospect of the Army using the nearest Italian military property to its facility downtown, Caserma Ederle, to house a consolidated 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. Four of the brigade’s six battalions are currently based in Germany.

But the plan, eventually approved by the city council and three consecutive Italian national governments, came under fire from protesters opposed to U.S. foreign policy, militarism and globalization. Some local residents also expressed concerns about the local water supply, increased traffic and loss of green space. They have held dozens of demonstrations, some of which have attracted thousands of like-minded people from across the country.

Opponents have said the U.S. military jets would use the landing strip, the Army would base tanks and store chemical weapons on site, that Dal Molin would be the largest U.S. military base outside the States, and all U.S. personnel bound for Iraq and Afghanistan would be traveling through the complex.

The U.S. Army has denied all those claims and said the land — formerly used by the Italian Air Force but now controlled by the Italian Army — would just be used for barracks and offices for the brigade.

A joint venture by two Italian firms has been selected as the contractor for the project, which the U.S. hopes will be completed in 2012.

Construction hasn’t started yet, though the process of clearing away underground fuel tanks and looking for unexploded ordnance has been going on for months.

Valentina Lehman provided translation for this report.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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