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New Italian president starts job with call to fight corruption, Mafia; restore nation's hopes

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ROME — Italy's new president assumed office Tuesday with a ringing call to the nation to root out organized crime and corruption devouring public resources and solve a protracted economic crisis depriving young people of their future.

Sergio Mattarella, whose elder brother, Piersanti Mattarella, was slain while governor of Sicily by the Mafia in 1980, denounced the "alarming" spread of the Mafia from its southern base to northern cities.

The 73-year-old head of state likened organized crime to "a pervasive cancer that destroys hopes ... and tramples rights." Premier Matteo Renzi's government has appointed a special anti-corruption fighter.

"Corruption has reached an unacceptable level," said Mattarella, who was serving as a constitutional court justice when lawmakers elected him to the nation's highest office Saturday. "It devours resources that could be devoted to the citizens. It impedes the proper carrying out of market rules" and "penalizes the honest and capable."

PHOTO: Newly elected Italian President Sergio Mattarella, center, flanked by Lower Chamber President Laura Boldrini, left, and vice-president of Italian Senate Valeria Fedeli, right, delivers his speech during his swearing-in ceremony at the Lower Chamber in Rome, Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. Sergio Mattarella on Monday resigned from his post as constitutional judge, a day before his swearing-in ceremony. Mattarella, 73, was elected as the new president on Saturday, in the fourth round of balloting held by Italian parliament in joint session. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Newly elected Italian President Sergio Mattarella, center, flanked by Lower Chamber President Laura Boldrini, left, and vice-president of Italian Senate Valeria Fedeli, right, delivers his speech during his swearing-in ceremony at the Lower Chamber in Rome, Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. Sergio Mattarella on Monday resigned from his post as constitutional judge, a day before his swearing-in ceremony. Mattarella, 73, was elected as the new president on Saturday, in the fourth round of balloting held by Italian parliament in joint session. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

Corruption is blamed for discouraging business startups and foreign investment. Italy's economy has been mired in economic crisis since 2008. Mattarella said the prolonged slump "has wounded the social fabric of our country," created new poverty and "robbed the future from our young women and men."

He told Italy's oft-squabbling political class that national unity can "restore a horizon of hope to the country."

In his inauguration speech to Parliament, he also pledged to use his seven-year term to encourage government-backed reforms, including new electoral laws aimed at making governments more stable.

Then Mattarella took an open-top car to the presidential Quirinale Palace. There, the president strode solemnly past an honor picket. Lending some lightness to the courtyard's red-carpet ceremony was Briciola ("Crumb"), the perky mascot dog of the Carabinieri's mounted police corps.


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PHOTO: Newly elected Italian President Sergio Mattarella, left, arrives for the ceremony to start his seven years as Italy's President at the Quirinal presidential palace in Rome, Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. A former center-left minister, Mattarella said nations cannot combat ‘’the terrible challenge of fundamentalist terrorism’’ with fortress mentalities. ‘’The threat is much deeper and vaster. Under attack are the foundations of freedom, democracy, tolerance and co-existence,’’ he said, recommending global responses. Mattarella took an open-top car to the presidential Quirinale Palace. There, the president strode solemnly past an honor picket. Lending some lightness to the courtyard’s red-carpet ceremony was Briciola (‘’Crumb’’), the perky mascot dog of the Carabinieri’s mounted police corps. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
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