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NAPLES, Italy — Italian soldiers will start patrolling streets on Monday as part of a controversial plan to fight crime — with many of the 3,000 soldiers descending on Milan, Rome and Naples, the cities that tend to have the most trouble with it, officials announced Tuesday.

The soldiers will patrol alongside regular state police and the carabinieri, Italy’s paramilitary police, according to a spokeswoman with the Interior Ministry.

The nation’s crime has increased over the past several years. That, coupled with the onset of the summer tourism season, makes the use of troops a necessity, said Neapolitan Gianfranco Bruno, 37.

"Actually, I’m very happy to hear it," said Bruno, employed at the U.S. Navy base in Naples. "I hope it brings more security. The soldiers can help the carabinieri and the police, who cannot do it alone."

The government’s plan has drawn criticism from center-left politicians. Vittorio Agnoletto, of the Communist Party, was quoted in Italian newspapers as saying: "People who come to Italy and see troops on the streets will think the country is in the grip of a civil war."

Italians, however, are fed up with lawlessness and lack of control, and most everyone Milena Petrazzuolo knows supports the idea, she said.

"This is better. It’s a question of security," said Petrazzuolo, 24.

"I think there will be an improvement in security, and I’m in favor of the military presence," said Clotilde Simeoli, 36. "The police are just not able to do it on their own."

Roberta Cavalleri, a mother of two, hopes the troop presence "will bring tranquility" to the cities. "They should always be here. There is too much crime," Cavalleri said.

Petrazzuolo, Simeoli and Cavalleri all work at the U.S. Navy base in Naples.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi recently declared a state of emergency, and the government’s plan to infuse cities with patrolling soldiers is aimed at stemming the high rate of crime — much of it associated with the influx of illegal immigrants, Interior Ministry officials said.

Nearly 11,000 people entered Italy illegally in the first half of 2008, twice as many as in the same period last year. Many of the troops will guard immigration holding centers spread throughout the country.

Though the soldiers can stop, search and identify suspects, they will have no arrest powers, the spokeswoman said. If they identify a suspect, they can hold him for police, she said.

Soldiers also will patrol in Florence, Genoa, Bologna, Turin, Palermo, Bari and Venice. Generally, one-third of the soldiers assigned to each city will protect "sensitive targets," such as embassies, consular offices and other institutions; another third will be used for surveillance of city centers; and others will conduct foot patrols from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

The plan is expected to run for six months, with the possibility of a one-time six-month extension, she said.

The measure raised eyebrows among some U.S. sailors serving in Naples.

Martial law, as it were, wouldn’t go over well with the population in America, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Palae Cloud. "This is their city, and we’re just visiting, but people would be pretty upset if it happened in the States."

Bringing in the military is "the last resort" in the States and could be frightening, especially for tourists, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Queathan McKenzie. "I mean, I wouldn’t want to go to New York if the military patrolled, or to Miami if the military was on the streets," he said.


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