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Fountain ban angers coin fisher

A defiant Roberto Cercelletta stands by Rome's Trevi Fountain  

ROME, Italy (CNN) -- A Roman man has slashed his stomach in protest after he was barred from fishing out coins from Rome's famous Trevi Fountain.

Roberto Cercelletta has made a living for 34 years by spending 15 minutes a day raking out coins thrown into the fountain by visiting tourists.

But a public outcry over his antics spurred local authorities into bringing the ban after local media reported Cercelletta was making up to 600 euros (dollars) a day -- cash that should have been going to charities.

The Corriere Della Sera newspaper reported at the weekend that Cercelletta and two others were scooping up the coins at dawn six days a week -- only resting on Mondays when members of the Catholic charity Caritas came to collect offerings.

Are Rome officials right to ban a jobless man from fishing for coins in the city's Trevi Fountain?

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Rome's city authorities estimate charities are losing out to the tune of 12,000 euros a month, Reuters news agency reports, and have now begun their own daily collections.

Cercelletta, who is homeless and claims he is certifiably insane, jumped into the fountain on Wednesday and used a razor to make cuts across his belly.

He told the Corriere Della Sera: "I sweep up only about 200-300 euros a day, not what papers claim, and I share what I get with two other unemployed people."

He has threatened to return to the fountain and cuts his wrists if the ban remains in place.

Fellow coin fisher Franseco Macconi told the newspaper: "What will we do now? We're unemployed and have families to care for."

Coin fisher "on fringe of law"

Since a 1994 high court decision ruled that taking coins out of the fountain was no more illegal than throwing them in, the only thing Cercellettadoes that conflicts with the law is jump in the fountain.

"He lives on the sidelines of the law and there's not a lot we can do about it," a policeman told Reuters.

Police, who are on duty at the fountain 24 hours a day, say they stop him almost every day for jumping into the water and issue him with a standard fine of 516 euros, but because he is homeless and unemployed, he gets away without paying.

But tourists appear unperturbed by Cercelletta's predawn pilfering.

"Well, it's a way to make some money, I suppose," Londoner Stephen Matthews, 36, told Reuters as he prepared to toss a 5 cent piece into the glistening water. "At least he's using his initiative."

Ingrid Richter, a tourist from Muenster in Germany, said she was not surprised Cercelletta was able to make so much.

"There are so many tourists, it makes sense. But... I'm only going to throw in one cent now," she said.

Others got around any worries they might have had about rewarding an opportunist by throwing in foreign coins.

"If he really wants two kuna he's welcome to it," said 21-year-old Andrea from Croatia, tossing it over her shoulder.

One of the most famous tourist sights in Rome, the Trevi Fountain was built in 1762 and is dominated by a giant figure of the sea god Neptune on a winged chariot.

Legend has it that by tossing a coin in the fountain, a visitor is sure to return to Rome.

The baroque fountain became a hotspot for tourists after actress Anita Ekberg took a dip in it in Frederico Fellini's 1960s film, "La Dolce Vita."




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