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Taranto, Italy (AFP) Aug 17, 2012
About 2,000 people on Friday demonstrated in southern Italy against pollution from steelworks that legal authorities want to close at the cost of 20,000 jobs.
However, as the protest took place at Taranto a meeting was under way at a local administrative headquarters, attended by the ministers of economic development and the environment, to discuss preventing the closure.
The Ilva steelworks is the largest in Europe and accounts for nine million of the 28 million tonnes of steel produced annually in Italy.
About 20,000 jobs are at stake.
Some of the demonstrators ignored a ban on marching and shouted "Free Taranto" and "We Want to Live", according to an AFP photographer at the scene.
After a minute's silence for "the victims of Ilva", protesters applauded the name of judge Patrizia Todisco, who at the end of July sequestered installations in the plant, such as blast furnaces and the coking works, as part of a probe into an "environmental catastrophe".
The judge cited health studies that attested to an abnormally high mortality rate around the site because of numerous toxins, including dioxins.
Ilva has appealed against this decision and production is still continuing.
The government has allocated more than 330 million euros ($408 million) to anti-pollution measures and meeting industrial standards at the site, and has stated that it will take all steps it can to avoid closure, including going to the Constitutional Court.
During the demonstration, a paediatrician from the Tamburi district, near the steelworks, alleged that children had died because of the pollution.
"I would have liked to come here with as many black bands round my arm as the number of children I've seen die," Grazia Parisi told AFP.
The demonstration organised by local associations such as the Committee of Free and Thinking Citizens was backed by the left-wing opposition party, Italy of Values (IDV).
Felice Belisario of IDV said he wanted to "support the judges, subject to attacks by the government and (political) parties, simply for demanding that the law be respected."
Rejecting a "choice between health and a wage", Belisario said that the site should be cleaned up at the expense of the Riva family, the owners of the Ilva steelworks, which directly accounts for 11,500 jobs, and indirectly for some 9,500 more.
On August 2, thousands of workers from the Ilva plant, held a protest march to keep their jobs. Some then said they would prefer to die of cancer rather than of starvation.
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