Hundreds of young people formed human chains around Rome's Colosseum and Milan's cathedral on Wednesday in a demonstration to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The demonstration came amid heightened sensitivity over racism, after three French-Israeli children and a teacher were killed in a shooting spree at a Jewish school in France Monday by a gunman believed to be an Islamic extremist.
Italian school children and university students wearing white T-shirts with the slogan "No to all forms of racism!" linked arms around the ancient arena in Rome, while sports personalities took part in the demonstration in Milan.
Other human chains were organised in 34 cities and towns in Italy, including Bologna, Turin, Bari, Florence, Trieste and Venice.
"Milan has to become a laboratory of dialogue between cultures," said Pierfrancesco Majorino, social and cultural assessor in the north Italian city, which is the stronghold of the anti-immigration Northern League party.
Italy's minister for integration and international cooperation, Andra Riccardi, told Rome's young demonstrators: "We have to be careful not to foster the germ of racism or violent language. Racism begins with words."
There has been a long-running political debate on immigration in Italy, with President Giorgio Napolitano pushing for better integration measures, such as allowing the children of immigrants to obtain citizenship.
Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's government took a hard line against illegal immigration and Italy was sanctioned by the European Court of Human Rights in February for sending migrants intercepted at sea back to Libya.
The country suffered its own racist shooting spree in November last year, when an Italian far-right author shot dead two Senegalese vendors and wounded three others in Florence, before turning the gun on himself.
"Human chains in Italy against racism" AFP March 21, 2012
"Human chains in Italy against racismâ" Yahoo News March 21, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today