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VICENZA, Italy — Achille Variati isn’t opposed to an American military presence in his city. In fact, the center-left mayor of Vicenza said he’s not against bringing in more troops.

But he doesn’t think the agreement reached between the U.S. and the Italian federal government on the Dal Molin airfield is in the best interests of his city.

"I believe there are better alternatives," he said Thursday following a ceremony he organized to remember the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. "In Vicenza."

Variati didn’t specify the alternate sites.

The mayor was elected at least partly due to support of those opposed to the U.S. bringing in more troops to Vicenza. Many of those participating in "No Dal Molin" activities would like to see the U.S. military out of Italy entirely.

But Variati, a 55-year-old who formerly worked in the banking industry, said he understands the Army’s desire to consolidate the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in one location. Since his city has had good relations with its American military community for 53 years, he said he’s not opposed to Vicenza being that place.

But he said he has concerns with the location, because of its proximity to the city’s water source. An accident on base that pollutes the water for many city residents would be disastrous, he said.

That’s why he’s still planning to hold a referendum on Oct. 5 to let the city’s citizens express their views. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had written him a letter asking him to cancel it, stating that the issue was a federal matter and had already been decided.

Variati noted that on Thursday. But he said he thought the local citizens should have their voices heard. And that if a majority seemed to favor the project, he’d drop his opposition.

As for the project itself, Variati said he doesn’t believe the U.S. plans to use jets on the airfield. But he said he doesn’t feel he knows as much about specific details as he should.

Would he like to learn more?

"Absolutely," he said.

Variati had invited the U.S. military population to participate in the ceremony Thursday in Parocchia San Michele, a church that sits on the city’s main square. He and Brig. Gen. William B. Garrett, commander of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne), each spoke during the ceremony, which also featured songs performed by American and Italian choirs.

Variati was in Washington, D.C., as part of a delegation from the Veneto region when the attacks took place seven years ago. He said he still remembers the anxiety he felt and emotions displayed by the people around him.

Gino Crosara, an 80-year-old city resident, said he attended the ceremony to show support for all those who died in the attacks — including 10 Italians.

"Because it’s an important event and it has to do with everybody," he said, noting that millions of Italians had immigrated to the United States and become Americans during his lifetime.

He said he believed that the majority of citizens in Vicenza support the U.S. and its presence in the city, though they’ve been much quieter than those opposed.

"I live here and that’s what I hear," he said.

Dozens of police officers surrounded the entrance to the church to provide security, but there were no protesters. That didn’t mean that all of those in the area had the same views as Crosara.

Giorgio Pilastro, a 55-year-old laborer, said he is opposed to U.S. expansion in Vicenza because he doesn’t want any facilities supporting war in his city. He said he isn’t anti-American but plans to vote in the referendum against U.S. expansion.

ValentinaLehman 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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