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Slaying of thief fuels Italy’s debate on legitimate defense

ROME (AP) — Italian opposition politicians from the far right populist parties and other conservative forces on Sunday demanded a new law quickly on legitimate defense to protect law-abiding citizens.

The debate was fueled after a restaurant owner was put under investigation for allegedly fatally shooting a thief in the back during a middle-of-the-night break-in at the eatery.

The owner, Mario Cattaneo, 67, and his family live above the restaurant in Gugnano, near Lodi, northern Italy.

When noise awakened the family early Friday, the restaurateur grabbed a loaded hunting rifle and, according to some accounts given by the man and his adult son, fired toward a courtyard through a rear-entrance barricade erected by the thieves. In other Italian media accounts, the owner was quoted as saying the rifle fired accidentally when the thieves yanked the barrel of the rifle and he fell. In still another version, the Italian news agency ANSA on Sunday quoted Cattaneo as saying one of the thieves grabbed his arm and tried to pull away the rifle.

When the restaurant re-opened for business Sunday, Cattaneo showed journalists bruises on his arm he said was caused by a thief.

The victim, a Romanian man, was fatally shot near a back shoulder blade. The other thieves fled, leaving behind cigarette cartons allegedly stolen from the trattoria’s bar area.

“I’m deeply sorry for what happened. I thought the criminals had already gone away,” ANSA quoted the owner as saying Sunday.

Opposition politicians championed the restaurateur’s cause.

“I’m on Mario’s side,” Mariastella Gelmini, a leader in former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative-leaning Forza Italia Party, wrote on Facebook.

Gelmini challenged the ruling Democratic Party to speed-up the timetable on a bill in Parliament aimed at clarifying what constitutes legitimate defense of people and property.

That the slain alleged thief was Romanian fueled anti-immigrant sentiment being whipped up by far-right parties, especially by the Northern League led by populist firebrand Matteo Salvini.

One bill, proposed by the Northern League two years ago, would widen the circumstances in which citizens could act for legitimate defense.

“A dead man is never good news, but the Italian citizens stand by Mario Cattaneo,” Salvini tweeted Sunday. “No judge can convict him.”

The owner’s son, Gianluca Cattaneo, said: “We’ve re-opened, because one needs to start over, go forward, but our morale is very low.

“We wanted to re-open today thanks to the strength of our customers and to say thanks.”

Giorgia Meloni, who heads the far-right Brothers of Italy party, contended that if the right-wing-backed legitimate defense bill had become law already, “Mario Cattaneo wouldn’t have to face a trial.”

“The principle that we want to ratify is clear: if, in the best of hypotheses you come into my property during the night to rob, I have the right to defend myself,” Meloni wrote on Facebook.


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