Italian police have arrested 24 “separatists,” including an organizer of the online Veneto independence referendum. Police suspect them of plotting to take over Venice’s iconic St. Mark’s Square with a bulldozer which they converted into a “tank.”
According to police, the suspects had built an armored vehicle, planning to deploy it to Piazza San Marco, in a similar move to the symbolic several-hour takeover of the square by secessionists in 1997, AP reported. As police video footage shows, the “tank” was a just tractor with firearms that had yet to be attached.
The activists had been planning to “liberate” the piazza using weapons from the Albanian mafia and set up a new independent government, AFP cited the police statement as saying.
They were planning an attack “by hundreds of people, some of them armed” and “an insurrection from the inhabitants of northern Italy most affected by the economic crisis,” according to police.
The “tank” was built to be used for a “spectacular” action on Venice’s famous piazza.
The 24 were arrested on suspicion of terrorism, subversion of democratic order, and making and possessing weapons of war. Twenty-seven others are under investigation. Such crimes are punishable by up to 15 years behind bars.
The suspects are members of a group called The Alliance, which unites radical separatists from Italy’s Lombardy, Sardinia, and Veneto regions. Among the arrested was Franco Rocchetta, a former lawmaker and campaigner for Venetian independence who helped organize an unofficial online “referendum” in March, in the wake of Crimea’s independence from Ukraine.
One of the organizers of the referendum, Gianluca Busato, said the crackdown – which comes just days after the online poll – is a “ridiculous” overreaction by the state, insisting that she and her colleagues are “peaceful democrats.”
Those arrested also reportedly include two people involved in the 1997 St. Mark’s takeover, the founder of the secession-minded Liga Veneta, and organizers of last December’s ‘Pitchfork Protests’ aimed at ousting Italy’s entire political class.
In March, some 89 percent of respondents in the poll – more than two million people – voted for the Veneto region to split from Italy and set up an independent state. However, the Corriere del Veneto reported this week that most of the votes in the “referendum” supporting the secession were generated by computers abroad.