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Italians hold vigil after killing

A huge crowd marches through Rome as part of an anti-terror protest
A huge crowd marches through Rome as part of an anti-terror protest  

ROME, Italy -- Thousands of demonstrators have held a candle light vigil in Rome calling for peace in the Middle East and an end to terrorism.

The 15,000-strong procession, including politicians, church groups and union leaders, was initially planned to address only the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But it was broadened at the last minute to condemn terrorism after the killing on Tuesday of Italian government adviser Marco Biagi.

The infamous Red Brigades group has claimed responsibility for the murder in Bologna on Tuesday.

Interior Minister Claudio Scajola said the killing was an attempt to break apart Italian society while Prime Minister Silvio Berlsuconi vowed to press on with the controversial employment laws favoured by Biagi.

Pope John Paul condemned the killing, telling pilgrims at a regular Vatican audience it was "barbarous."

Italians shocked by Biagi's killing. CNN's Alessio Vinci reports (March 20)

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The United States called it an "outrageous terrorist act."

"We will support the Italian government's efforts to combat terrorism and bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

The Red Brigades admitted responsibility for the killing in a phone call to Bologna's main newspaper Il Resto del Carlino.

"We are the Red Brigades. We claim responsibility for the attack against Professor Biagi. A bulletin will follow," the caller said.

The Red Brigades, a left-wing terrorist group, carried out a wave of bloody attacks in the 1970s, including the notorious murder of Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978.

In 1999 the group murdered Massimo D'Antona, another senior government adviser.

It suffered military defeat in the 1980s but has occasionally resurfaced since, the D'Antona killing being its most high profile attack.

Scajola said police tests revealed the gun used to kill Biagi was the same used to shoot D'Antona.

Biagi: Hit by two of the four bullets fired at him  

"The history of the Red Brigades show...there is a strong link between the murders of D'Antona and Biagi and the older terrorism," Scajola told RAI state television.

Berlsuconi said: "Terrorism shows itself once again (to be) a topical danger that must be fought with all the necessary force."

The killing "fills all Italians with pain," he said.

Biagi, a professor at the University of Modena and an adviser to the European Commission in employment and social affairs, was a strong proponent and one of the authors of controversial labour reforms.

The government says they are necessary to create more jobs in a flexible labour market and bring Italy into line with the rest of Europe. Unions say the reforms would make it easier to fire workers.

Berlusconi called for a resumption of negotiations with unions and employers over the labour reform plans.

"In honour of Marco Biagi, a man of dialogue, we have decided to present a formal invitation to the social partners to resume negotiations immediately," he told reporters on Wednesday.

But Italy's main labour unions have decided to proceed with a plan for a general strike in protest at the reforms next month.

The day before his murder, Biagi wrote an editorial for leading economic daily Il Sole 24 Ore accusing the unions of being against European integration by opposing labour reform.


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