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Italy opposition says limiting immigrant students number "racist"

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Foreign children will not be allowed to make up more than 30 percent of students in Italian classrooms from next September, Italy's government said.


Foreign children will not be allowed to make up more than 30 percent of students in Italian classrooms from next September, Italy's government said on Friday, in a plan attacked by critics as smacking of racism.

Italy's conservative government says it is introducing the controversial measure in a bid to "better" integrate immigrant children into Italian society and prevent them from congregating in "ghetto classrooms" made up of only foreigners.

"The school must be the place of integration," Education Minister Mariastella Gelmini said in a statement. "Our schools are ready to accept all cultures and children of the world. At the same time, Italian schools must maintain their own traditions with pride and teach the culture of our country."

The centre-left opposition and union officials attacked the proposal as a wrong step that would only increase a sense of exclusion among immigrants. One opposition leader, Antonio Di Pietro, called it a dangerous plan.

"It's dangerous because barbaric acts have been committed in the past in the name of protection of species and national identity," Di Pietro said. "Setting a 30 percent ceiling on foreign students in classrooms does not favour integration but has the bitter flavour of racism."

Many children of immigrant parents living in Italy are not Italian since citizenship policy favours Italian ancestry over place of birth. There are about 600,000 foreign students in Italian schools, 35 percent of whom were born in Italy.

Immigration has been a top policy issue for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government, which has drawn accusations of racism with its hard line on illegal immigration.

Berlusconi, who banks on the support of the far-right Northern League. a junior partner in the government coalition, last year openly rejected the vision of a multi-ethnic Italy.

Separately, thousands of immigrants protested against racism in a southern Italian town on Friday after a night of rioting that was sparked by an attack on African farm workers by a gang of white youths.

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