24/02/2024 04:50:00

  Prosecutors launch investigation into plans for bridge to Sicily

 Italian prosecutors have launched an investigation into a plan by the far-right government to build a multibillion-euro bridge linking Sicily to the mainland.

The decision to open an investigation comes after opposition lawmakers representing leftwing parties filed a complaint.

Launched by the Rome public prosecutor’s office on Wednesday, the investigation focuses on the “planning and execution activities” of the bridge and stresses a “lack of transparency” during the design of what advocates say would be the world’s longest suspension bridge.

The project was set in motion by Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, days after he was nominated as infrastructure minister in 2022. The project – a dream of several leaders since ancient times, including the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini – has been repeatedly rejected by previous governments due to high costs, engineering impracticability and concerns about mafia infiltration and the environmental impact.

The area in which the 3.3km bridge would be built is thought to have one of the highest levels of seismic risk in Europe.

Salvini, who estimates the bridge’s cost to be around €12bn over 15 years, criticised the opposition lawmakers for filing the complaint. He has previously claimed the project would create approximately 100,000 jobs.

“Only in Italy is it possible to wage a political battle over a bridge,” he said. “The bridge over the strait [of Messina] is needed to unite millions of Sicilians [with the rest of Italy], pollute less and travel faster. The Democratic party made a complaint to the prosecutor’s office because we want to build a bridge, which it is the right of millions of Italians to have.”

The aspiration to build such a bridge can be traced back to ancient times, with the Romans credited as the only ones thought perhaps to have accomplished such a feat. The author and philosopher Pliny the Elder wrote that in 251BC a bridge of boats and barrels was built to transport 140 elephants from Sicily to Rome that had been captured by the Romans from the Carthaginians during the first Punic war.

Throughout history, various leaders, including Mussolini and the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, have entertained the idea of linking Sicily to the mainland.

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