G8 ministers agree upon tighter anti-crime measures

Rome - Justice and home affairs ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) nations agreed Friday to bolster measures aimed at seizing cross-border assets held by organized crime syndicates such as the mafia. Participants are considering extending judicial provisions similar to those operating in Italy to all G8 nations. In Italy in 2008, some 4.3 billion euros (5.9 billion dollars) worth of assets were seized from organizations such as Sicily's Cosa Nostra, and the Neapolitan version of the mafia, the Camorra.

The figure represented a three-fold increase over the value of goods confiscated in 2007, signalling that a "winning recipe has been found," in the fight against mobster-controlled international drugs and arms trafficking, Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said.

In the afternoon, ministers from the G8, which consists of the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia, discussed problems linked to illegal immigration, including human trafficking.

Other participants at the two-day meeting, which is being held under strict security at a police training school, include EU Justice, Freedom and Security Commissioner Jacques Barrot, as well as international security officials from Interpol and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Maroni said G8 members are considering adopting a strategy, jointly developed by Italy and Interpol, aimed at curbing the use of forged identity documents by human traffickers and other criminals.

Maroni also briefed participants on an Italian-Libyan accord to thwart the use of the North African nation's shores as a springboard for attempts to enter Europe illegally by sea.

"Since the accord came into effect (in mid-May) landings (by would-be immigrants on Italy's coastline and islands) have ceased," Maroni told reporters at a briefing.

In 2008 some 38,000 would-be immigrants arrived in Italy by sea.

Italy's government, which currently holds the G8 presidency, has made the fight against illegal immigration one if its top priorities, introducing controversial measures such as the deportation of migrants intercepted in international waters.

On Friday Barrot, in remarks reported by the ANSA news agency, said that a distinction needs to be made between political refugees and illegal immigrants, adding that in Libya reception facilities for asylum seekers "are not sufficient and not at all adequate."

Also on Friday several dozen pro-immigration and anti- globalization demonstrators staged protests in Rome against the G8 meeting, including an attempt to occupy the Basilica of St Mary Major church. Police managed to prevent the occupation.

Activists plan a march through the streets of the Italian capital on Saturday, the final day of the ministers' meeting.

Last week, more than a dozen police and demonstrators were injured in clashes in the north-western city of Turin during a meeting of academics from the G8 nations.

The main leaders' summit of the G8 is scheduled to take place in July in L'Aquila not far from Rome.

In 2001 in Genoa, when Italy last hosted a G8 summit, thousands of demonstrators and police battled in the city's streets with scores injured and one person, a 23-year-old protestor, shot dead by police.