ROME Soldiers were deployed throughout Italy on Monday to embassies, subway stations and railway stations, as part of broader government measures to fight violent crime here for which illegal immigrants are broadly blamed.
By the time it is fully effective next week, the effort will flank regular police officers and the military police with 3,000 troops, a visible signal to citizens that the government "has responded to their demands for greater security," Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa said in an interview on the Italian Sky News channel.
The conservative government of Silvio Berlusconi won elections in April while promising to crack down on petty crime and illegal immigrants. The new patrols of soldiers, who are not empowered to make arrests, do not seem aimed only at illegal immigrants, though the patrols were deployed to centers where illegal immigrants are housed.
"Security is something concrete," La Russa said Monday. The troops, he said, will be a "deterrent to criminals."
Critics of the government have condemned the deployment as a superfluous measure that could prove counterproductive.
"Putting troops on the street sends a dramatic message that the situation is more serious than it is in reality," said Marco Minniti, the shadow interior minister of the center-left Democratic Party, the largest opposition party.
Television news stations showed military officials searching immigrants' suitcases at subway stations. Potential terrorist targets were also under greater scrutiny. In Milan, troops were stationed around the city's Gothic cathedral, and in Naples they watched the American Consulate.
In the capital, troops are to be stationed around embassies, consulates and centers for illegal immigrants in outlying neighborhoods where they live. They will not be securing the city's historic monuments because local officials fretted that the military presence could scare off tourists.
"They will only be in areas where they have no impact on normal citizens," Rome's center-right mayor, Gianni Alemmano, told reporters.
Critics of the effort, which was part of a larger anti-crime package pushed through parliament last month, also object to the use of troops rather than the police, saying the military is better suited for emergencies in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq, where they are posted, than urban crises.
"You need to be specially trained to carry out some kinds of controls," Nicola Tanzi, the secretary of a trade union that represents Italian police officers. "Soldiers just aren't qualified."
He also questioned whether the $93.6 million that will be spent for the extra deployment, called Operation Safe Streets, might not have been better used to increase the budgets for Italy's police and military.