NAPLES (Reuters) - Protesters set fire to heaps of garbage in Naples Friday and blocked main roads with trash after Italian President Giorgio Napolitano stepped into the crisis and said he was alarmed by conditions in the southern city.
Fire fighters tackled around 65 garbage fires overnight in and around Italy's third biggest city, where huge piles of waste around two meters high were set alight.
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has repeatedly pledged to end a chronic garbage crisis that has dragged on for years but mountains of stinking trash are again festering in hot summer temperatures and waste dumps are overflowing.
Napolitano, who visited the city on June 13, put pressure on Berlusconi's government to take action.
"It's absolutely essential and urgent to intervene in the acute and alarming deterioration of the waste crisis in Naples," Napolitano told the local Il Mattino newspaper.
He said he had expressed concern to Berlusconi that the cabinet had failed to approve a decree allowing waste to be transported to other regions.
Newly-elected Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris warned of imminent health risks from the burning rubbish and said the national government was avoiding its responsibilities.
"Certain interests want Naples to remain under piles of rubbish," said Magistris, who is from the opposition Italy of Values (IDV party), in an interview with La Repubblica. "It's evident looking at what the government hasn't done."
The emergency, which contributed to the downfall of Berlusconi's center-left predecessor, is the result of years of political failures, corruption and the influence of the local mafia which controls garbage-clearing rackets.
Berlusconi, who often cites clearing the streets of Naples shortly after returning to power in 2008 as one of his biggest successes, blames local politicians for the problems, but many protesters see it as the government's fault.
(Reporting by Laura Viggiano and Catherine Hornby; editing by Barry Moody)