Italy Marks Bridge Disaster in Shadow of Political Crisis

A view of the partially collapsed Morandi highway bridge, in Genoa, Italy, on Aug. 19, 2018. (Luca Zennaro/ANSA via AP)

(AFP) – Italy on Wednesday marks a year since the Genoa motorway bridge collapse that killed 43 people, as the country grapples with a political crisis sparked by far-right leader Matteo Salvini.

The ceremony will take place close to the spot where a section of the Morandi highway fell during heavy rain on August 14, 2018, hurling dozens of cars and several trucks onto railway tracks below.

Rubble and mangled steel still lie strewn across the site. The bridge’s two remaining towers were demolished in a giant blast in June to make way for a new structure.

“I invite all Genoa citizens to take part in the ceremony to remember the victims of the Morandi bridge. I ask those who cannot come to observe a minute’s silence, wherever they are, at 11:36 am (0936 GMT)”, the moment the bridge collapsed, Genoa mayor Marco Bucci said ahead of the event.

The anniversary comes as Italy faces the potential downfall of its government after Interior Minister Salvini of the League party pulled the plug on his populist alliance with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) last week.

All key players involved in Rome’s drama are due to attend Wednesday’s commemoration, including Salvini, his former coalition partner and M5S head Luigi di Maio, as well as President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Genoa archbishop Angelo Bagnasco will celebrate a mass while Conte, Bucci and representatives from victims’ families are to give speeches.

The city’s church bells will ring and port sirens wail after the minute’s silence.

The ceremony comes a day after the Senate rejected Salvini’s call for a swift no-confidence vote, deciding instead that Prime Minister Conte would address the crisis on August 20.

Senators were recalled at the height of the holiday season after political groups on Monday failed to agree on a timetable for the ballot demanded by Salvini.

Officials in Genoa expressed concern that the power struggle could hamper the progress of the new bridge, due to be completed early next year.

“I hope that this government crisis won’t cause delays to the completing this important infrastructure,” district mayor Federico Romeo told AFP of the crucial transport artery.

The new steel and concrete motorway bridge, designed by Italian architect and Genoa native Renzo Piano, is scheduled to be open for traffic in April 2020.

“This will last for a thousand years,” Piano said last year.

It will “have elements of a boat because that is something from Genoa,” he said of the streamlined and luminous white structure.

A legal battle is still raging over who is responsible for the disaster.

Autostrade per l’Italia (ASPI), the Benetton family-owned business which operated the motorway is defending itself against victims’ families and politicians, mainly from the M5S, who say the company privileged profit over safety.

The Morandi bridge, named after its architect who designed it in the 1960s “collapsed because it could no longer stand,” Genoa prosecutor Francesco Cozzi said recently.

A total of 71 people are accused in the legal case, from managers in two Benetton companies to civil servants, involving more than 100 lawyers, 120 experts, 75 witnesses and tonnes of documents and other evidence.

The fallout from the bridge collapse was one of many points of disagreement between Salvini’s League and Di Maio’s M5S.

The M5S wanted ASPI’s concessions to be immediately taken away, while the League, which is close to northern Italy’s industrial milieu, remained prudent on attributing blame.

© Agence France-Presse

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