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Italian Policemen Shot Near New Government Swearing-In

By Frances D'Emilio

ROME -- In the very moments Italy's new coalition government was being sworn in, ending months of political paralysis in a country hoping to revive a bleak economy, a middle-aged unemployed bricklayer opened fire Sunday in the square outside the premier's office, seriously wounding two policemen, authorities said.

The alleged gunman from Calabria, a southern region plagued by joblessness and organized crime, told investigators he wanted to shoot politicians. But finding none in the square, he instead shot at Carabinieri paramilitary police.

A bullet pierced one of the policemen in the neck, passing through his spinal column, doctors said, adding it wasn't yet known if the 50-year-old officer would have any paralysis. The other one was shot in the leg and suffered a fracture.

The newly sworn in interior minister, Angelino Alfano, said a preliminary investigation indicated the shooting, which also slightly injured a pregnant bystander, amounted to a "tragic criminal gesture of a 49-year-old unemployed" man.

But the shooting was also a violent expression of social tensions in Italy, where unemployment is soaring, an increasing number of businesses are shutting their doors permanently and new political corruption scandals make headlines nearly every day.

Politicians described the attack as a disturbing call to fix Italy's economy.

"From what we understand, it's mainly personal problems, work, personal debts" that fueled the gunman's attack, said Guglielmo Epifani, a top official in Premier Enrico Letta's center-left Democratic Party.

Epifani said in a state TV interview that while the financial crisis has caused some to commit suicide, "this is the first time someone shoots to kill" someone else "in a place filled with innocent people."

"The symbolism is there," he said. The political world "must highlight its responsibility during the crisis before the country," he said.

In brief comments to reporters after paying a hospital visit to the more seriously wounded policeman, Letta said, "it is a moment in which each must do one's own duty."

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