Policemen shot outside Italian premier's office as government sworn in

An unemployed bricklayer shot two Italian policemen in a crowded square outside the premier's office just as the nation's new government was being sworn in.

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ROME // An unemployed bricklayer shot two Italian policemen in a crowded square outside the premier's office yesterday just as the nation's new government was being sworn in, investigators said.

The gunman's intended target was politicians, a top Italian official said after interviewing him.

Mired in recession and suffering from soaring unemployment, Italy has been in political paralysis since an inconclusive February election. Social and political tensions have been running high among voters divided between centre-left, conservative and anti-government political parties.

Yesterday was supposed to be a hopeful day when debt-ridden Italy finally got new government to solve its many problems. But shots rang out in Colonna Square near a busy shopping and strolling area shortly after 11.30am local time, just as premier Enrico Letta and his new ministers were taking their oaths at the Quirinal presidential office about a kilometre away.

The suspected gunman, dressed in a dark business suit, was immediately grabbed by other police outside Chigi Palace, which houses the premier's office and other government offices. The politicians were supposed to have met at the palace later for their first cabinet meeting.

Rome prosecutor Pierfilippo Laviani told reporters he had questioned the alleged assailant, who was taken to a hospital with bruises after being wrestled to the ground. He identified the man as Luigi Preiti, 49, from Calabria, a southern agricultural area plagued by organised crime and chronic unemployment.

Mr Laviani said Mr Preiti had `'confessed everything" and didn't appear mentally unbalanced.

`'He is a man full of problems, who lost his job, who lost everything," the prosecutor said. "He was desperate. In general, he wanted to shoot at politicians, but given that he couldn't reach any, he shot at the Carabinieri" paramilitary police.

One of the policemen, shot in the neck, was in critical condition. The other, shot in the leg, suffered a fracture, doctors said.

The shooting `'was the tragic gesture of a 49-year-old unemployed man," interior minister Angelino Alfano told reporters after briefing Mr Letta and his new cabinet.

The 46-year-old Letta had nailed down a coalition deal only a day ago between two bitter political enemies - his centre-left forces and the conservative bloc of ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi. Mr Letta will speak to parliament today, laying out his strategy to reduce joblessness while still sticking to the austerity measures needed to keep the eurozone's Number 3 economy from descending into a sovereign debt crisis. He will then face confidence votes.