An Italian woman was mercilessly beaten, pulled through mud and throw in a ditch. The blame was laid on a Gypsy camp resident that impels Italian officials to order deportation of any EU citizen considered dangerous.
"Horror in Rome" read the banner front-page headline in unusually large type for Il Messaggero, a daily in Rome. "End of tolerance," began an accompanying editorial.
The woman, 47, wife of an Italian naval commander, was attacked as she walked along a road toward the military barracks where she lives after getting off a train near a Gypsy camp after dark Tuesday, police said.
Police at a news conference Thursday at Rome police headquarters said the woman was found after a Gypsy woman who witnessed the attack flagged down a bus in the isolated area.
The victim "was unconscious, breathing with difficulty," said Roberto Fornaiolo, one of the policemen who found the woman, who had been tossed into a ditch.
"She was covered with mud because she was dragged across the ground. At first we couldn't make out the bruises because there was so much blood on her face," Fornaiolo said, adding that the woman's underwear and pants had been pulled down.
News reports said the woman appeared to have been sexually attacked, but investigators could not immediately be reached to see if rape had been determined. The suspect, a Romanian in his 20s identified as Nicolae Mailat, had scratches on his back, possibly indicating his victim had struggled to fend him off.
Sant'Andrea hospital said the woman was in a coma, not responding to stimuli, but that tests showed brain activity continued.
In a special meeting Wednesday night, Premier Romano Prodi's center-left Cabinet approved a decree giving authorities the power to expel European Union citizens "for reasons of public safety" in a move to fight "episodes of heavy violence and ferocious crime."
"We are not acting out of rage, but we are determined to keep a high and just level of security for our citizens," Prodi said.
Romania joined the European Union earlier this year.
The naval officer's wife was the latest high-profile victim of violent crime in recent months in the capital blamed on Romanians. Oscar-winning director Giuseppe Tornatore was hospitalized after he was punched in the jaw by one of two muggers in an upscale neighborhood over the summer.