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U.S. ambassador to Italy Ronald Spogli met Tuesday with Vicenza city officials to get a firsthand report on the controversial issue of U.S. military expansion in the northern Italy city, according to a city official.

The ambassador discussed rumors that city residents might get a chance to vote on the expansion in the form of a referendum — an issue that has yet to be decided, Fabio Carraro, the city mayor’s press secretary, said Wednesday.

Spogli was unavailable Wednesday to provide comment or feedback following his meeting with city officials, embassy spokeswoman Katherine Sharp said.

Italian legal officials are deliberating whether that decision must be made by Italy’s federal government, or whether voters can have a say, Carraro said.

Spogli met for roughly an hour with Mayor Enrico Hullweck, but his visit Tuesday was marred by a few of the roughly 40 loud protesters who became violent.

The demonstrators’ actions injured two police officers and a city employee who were taken to emergency rooms, Carraro said. Their injuries were not serious, he said.

The U.S. military expansion in Vicenza has been a controversial issue that has climbed to Italy’s parliament.

There are rumblings of a possible veto of the expansion plan, Carraro said, in spite of the city council’s October approval to let the U.S. military expand the base and use the Dal Molin airfield.

The council voted 21-17 to allow the U.S. presence there. Vicenza has been the home of the 173rd Airborne Brigade since the unit was reactivated June 12, 2000.

The brigade had only one battalion then, but now has six battalions spread out among Vicenza and two bases in Germany, Bamberg and Schweinfurt.

U.S. officials have stated their desire to have the brigade in a single location several times, but that’s not possible at its current home of Caserma Ederle.

The U.S. has been negotiating to use another nearby Italian military base for more than two years and has locked in on Dal Molin, an airfield to the northwest of the city that was once used by the Italian military but now serves primarily civilian uses.

U.S. officials have said the Army will not bring in tanks, spy planes, or multiple missile-launching systems.

Hullweck wants a promise that the military will not launch attack missions from Dal Molin.

U.S. officials repeatedly have said that they plan to continue to use Aviano Air Base as the launching point for the brigade.

New facilities for such a purpose are currently under construction at Aviano.

Hullweck also is seeking to have the U.S. government foot the bill for expansion and infrastructure costs, Carraro said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Kent Harris contributed to this story.


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