Thousands marched against racism in Florence on Saturday after a far-right activist killed two Senegalese vendors in a shooting spree that shocked Italy and ignited a row over immigration.
"We want today to be the dawn of a new hope so that our brothers did not die in vain," said Pape Diaw, a spokesman for the Senegalese community. "We really have to work for peaceful coexistence and respect of people but it has to be a real struggle, not just a facade," he told reporters.
Around 10,000 people took part in the demonstration, according to police, while organisers put the number at some 12,000. Participants carried Senegalese flags and placards including one that read: "Racism? Not in my name."
"Our brothers were martyred. Obviously not martyrs of war but martyrs since they were killed while they were working for their daily bread," Florence imam Izzedin Elzir told the crowd in the historic Santa Maria Novella square.
The city is still reeling after Gianluca Casseri, a Holocaust denier and author of fantasy novels, went on the rampage on Tuesday with a Magnum revolver at two local markets including the tourist-heavy San Lorenzo in the centre. Two Senegalese street vendors were killed and another three wounded before the 50-year-old killed himself when police began closing in on him. Senegalese authorities have called for a full inquiry into the killings.
Dozens of Senegalese immigrants and white Florence residents gathered ahead of the protest at the Dalmazia Square market where the spree began, reading passages from the Koran and leaving flowers and messages at a street shrine. A large makeshift sign at the square in honour of the two victims -- Samb Modou, 40, and Diop Mor, 54 -- read simply "Modou and Mor: Two of Us."
After a Muslim rite on Monday, their bodies will be flown back to Senegal the following day.
"There needs to be a strong commitment against racism by everyone and we need to put in place an immigration policy in line with our constitution," said Vannino Chiti, a senator from the centre-left Democratic Party. Chiti, one of several left-wingers at the protest, said Italian law should be changed before the next elections to allow the children of immigrants to obtain citizenship -- echoing a demand made by President Giorgio Napolitano.
Several members of the Senegalese community have also called for the immediate closure of Casa Pound, a national right-wing social group that Casseri belonged to but which has been quick to denounce the violence.
Claudio Morganti, a lawmaker from the anti-immigration Northern League party, said the protest had been "ruined by left-wing politicians who have manipulated it and made it part of their political propaganda."
"The Senegalese have to understand that whoever comes here has to respect the rules and respect the people who are hosting them," he said.
There were several smaller marches in other major Italian cities too. At one in Milan, some immigrants shouted "Racists!" and "Murderers!" at police officers. Bologna, Genoa, Naples, Padua also saw protests.
Many street vendors in Italian cities, who sell everything from African sculptures to tourist trinkets to fake designer accessories, are Senegalese. Their makeshift stalls are popular but they are often selling without official licences and are forced to run off whenever police approach.
In an interview on Saturday, International Cooperation and Integration Minister Andrea Riccardi warned attacks like the one in Florence and an arson attack on a Roma camp in Turin last Saturday were "a warning bell".
"We can't dismiss these as one-off events. They are a risk for the integration and the solidarity of our country. And they show that the crisis is not just economic but much deeper," he told La Stampa daily.
Responding to criticism from the Northern League, Riccardi -- the founder of the pro-integration Catholic community group Sant'Egidio -- was scathing.
"Contempt has been preached for too long, ethnic minority groups have been spoken about harshly for too long. There has to be security for all Italians, for all immigrants and for all those who work in Italy. This is the first thing I told the Senegalese community in Florence: 'There needs to be security for you too.'".
Thanks to Zaahid for the heads-up