NAPLES, Italy (CNN) -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced Wednesday that he has appointed a new "garbage czar" to combat a crisis that has left the streets of Naples awash with trash.
After a cabinet meeting in Naples, Berlusconi told reporters he had tapped Guido Bertolaso, head of the country's Civil Protection Department -- the unit responsible for dealing with national emergencies.
In his role Bertolaso will have the authority to open new dump sites and landfills in the region to alleviate a problem that has dogged the city for years.
While central Naples is lnow argely clear of trash, the situation in the surrounding areas -- especially the city's outskirts -- is dire. Tens of thousands of tons of uncollected garbage remain piled up on streets and in alleys and the odor permeates the air.
The problems flared December 31 when the Italian government closed one of the area's two working dumps at the request of nearby residents.
That led to trash piling up on city streets, and some schools were closed to protect children from the noxious fumes.
The government has since moved some of the waste to temporary landfills around Naples and has even shipped some of it to other parts of Italy and Europe. But the measures have not solved the problems.
Earlier this month, the European Commission said it was taking Italy to court over the crisis because the uncollected trash poses a threat to the environment and puts Italy in breach of EU waste disposal rules.
Wednesday's Cabinet meeting is the first of what promises to be a series of meetings in Naples, with Berlusconi vowing to continue meeting there until the issue is resolved.
Though garbage tops Wednesday's agenda, the Cabinet also plans to discuss two other issues -- crime and illegal immigration.
Cabinet ministers are expected to propose making illegal immigration a crime, punishable by six months to four years in prison. That will eventually be introduced as a bill to be voted on in parliament.
Another proposal, which will come into immediate effect, calls for illegal immigrants who commit crimes in Italy to face harsher penalties and longer sentences than other criminals. For crimes carrying a one-year sentence, for instance, an illegal immigrant would instead have to serve three years; those who face sentences of longer than two years will simply be expelled.
The Cabinet is also expected to propose harsher measures against Italians who take advantage of illegal immigrants, such as by renting apartments on the black market for exorbitant amounts. In that case, the apartment will be confiscated and the owner will face jail time.
Italian mayors will also have more powers dealing with the expulsion of illegal immigrants under the Cabinet's expected proposals.
The issue of immigrants and crime has gripped Italy in recent weeks. Last week, a crowd attacked a Roma gypsy camp near Naples after a gypsy woman was accused of trying to steal a baby from a nearby apartment. The camp was torched later that night and police had to escort the residents to safety.
Police launched a nationwide sweep two days later, arresting some 400 people for drug dealing, prostitution, and robbery. Though police said the raids did not target gypsies, many of those arrested came from Romania.
Critics have said the government plans for tougher measures against illegal immigrants may also unfairly target immigrants living and working in the country legally.
CNN's Hada Messia contributed to this report.
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