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Army mobilised to free snow-bound Italians as transport minister under fire
ROME (AFP) Jan 30, 2005
The Italian army was mobilised Sunday to reach snow-bound villages in east-central Italy caught in the grip of a cold snap amid opposition calls for the transport minister to resign for incompetence.

Around 30 soldiers equipped with snow ploughs have been sent to cut paths to several villages cut off in the Ancona region of the east-central Marches, while other units were mobilised in Apulia, in Italy's heel and in Sicily, the military announced.

Italian soldiers had already been called in on Friday to free nearly 1,000 motorists trapped in their cars and trucks on a motorway through the mountains in Salerno, in the south of the country.

Many had spent two nights in the freezing cold inside their vehicles before being taken to reception areas set up on the side of the motorway, which re-opened to traffic on Saturday, although parts of it could not be negotiated without snow chains.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was forced to jump to the defence of his Transport Minister Pietro Lunardi amid calls for his resignation for his handling of the emergency.

"The government has no responsibility in this affair," Berlusconi told reporters.

But one of his deputy prime ministers, centrist Marco Follini, begged to differ and offered the government's apologies to motorists stranded without assistance along the Salerno-Reggio Calabria motorway.

The head of Civil Protection, Guido Bertolaso, also denounced the failings which resulted in Italy being plunged into chaos even though weather forecasters had issued warnings from Tuesday.

"Assistance to people trapped by the snow and the management of these events are not within the remit of the transport ministry and I therefore see no reason to apologise" Lunardi told the daily La Republicca on Sunday.

Weather forecasters said the weather would improve Sunday in the north of the country, but more snowfalls were expected in the mountainous zones of Emilia Romagna, Molise (centre-east), Apulia (southeast), Calabria (southwest), and Sardinia and Sicily.

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