ROME (AP) — Under heavy security, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni on Thursday visited and pledged to improve safety at a Naples suburb where drug traffickers operate largely with impunity, organized crime wields influence and two girls were allegedly raped repeatedly by local youths.
Meloni spent a few hours at the invitation of the local parish priest in the Green Park neighborhood in the town of Caivano, where the girls, cousins ages 11 and 12, were allegedly assaulted.
The trip was an occasion for Meloni to show that her nearly year-old right-wing government is tough on crime and attentive to people living in largely neglected areas of the country.
After meeting with the Rev. Maurizio Patriciello, a school principal and other local figures, Meloni promised that an abandoned, rundown sports complex, the suspected site of some of the alleged rapes, would be repaired and operational by spring.
She said 10 million euros ($11 million) have been allocated to repair and make operational the complex, which includes swimming pools and tennis courts. The work will be carried out by the Italian army's engineering corps, and that once the complex reopens, it will be run by police athletic organizations.
Meloni decried the alleged rapes as “an inhuman act, an infamous crime that has really shocked everyone." She said there probably “are more stories like this than those that surface in crime news.”
Still, “we won't limit ourselves to dutiful condemnation and dutiful solidarity,'' said Meloni, whose far-right Brothers of Italy party has been leading in opinion surveys since her election nearly a year ago. She said her visit to Green Park makes it clear that “no-man's lands cannot exist in Italy."
Meloni pledged a crackdown against “criminality, illegality, drugs" and said the number of police and local justice officials will be increased.
The Camorra crime syndicate, whose illicit businesses include drug trafficking, holds significant influence in Naples and its suburbs, which include some of Italy's most impoverished areas.
“I believe she (Meloni) will keep her word," about the sports center's renaissance, Patriciello said.
Residents have complained for years that drugs are openly sold in the neighborhood's squares and streets, even as children pass by on their way to school or play.
After the alleged rapes came to the attention of authorities, the cousins were placed in the temporary custody of caregivers while investigators determine if their parents were aware of their whereabouts during the days of the attacks.
In 2013, a 6-year-old girl was killed by being thrown from a terrace of one of Green Park's rundown apartment buildings, allegedly by a pedophile who had abused her. The suspect was the companion of her mother's friend, according to Italian news reports. A year earlier, a 3-year-old boy was killed in a fall from an upper-story window of the same building in unclear circumstances. Meloni cited both children's deaths.
The Caivano area includes farmlands that were contaminated a decade ago by the Camorra's multibillion-dollar racket involving disposing toxic waste, mainly from industries in the wealthy north that asked no questions about where the garbage went, so long as it was disposed at a fraction of the costs of legal removal. Many parents then marched in protest, fearing that their children's health was compromised from eating local produce.
Ahead of Meloni's arrival, there were fears of big protests over her government's drastic slashing of a minimum-income assistance program, which was begun several years ago by populist former Premier Giuseppe Conte. The protests didn't materialize.