Venice takes to canals for independence

Expecting several thousand campaigners … rally goers will be ferried across the Grand Canal in gondolas to deliver a “declaration of independence”

TWO centuries after Napoleonic forces snuffed out their 1000-year republic, Venetians are once again aspiring to become an independent state.

Inspired by the nationalist aspirations of Scotland and Catalonia, pro-independence campaigners were to hold a mass rally in the heart of the lagoon city overnight, calling for an urgent referendum on the issue.

Indipendenza Veneta, a newly founded pro-independence movement, says it expects several thousand people to turn up for the rally.

They will be ferried across the Grand Canal in gondolas to deliver a ”declaration of independence” to the headquarters of the Veneto regional government.

It may sound fanciful, and it will be fiercely resisted by Rome, but activists want to carve out a new country in north-eastern Italy that would comprise Venice, the surrounding region of Veneto and parts of Lombardy, Trentino and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The Repubblica Veneta, as it would be known, would be home to about 5 million people.

Venice was incorporated into Italy in 1866, five years after the unification of the rest of the country.

Recent surveys show widespread support for independence among Venetians, who speak a distinct dialect and feel geographically and culturally distant from Rome. A poll conducted by Corriere della Sera in September found that 80 per cent were in favour of independence.

”We have gained a lot of momentum from what is happening in Scotland and Catalonia and things are moving fast,” Lodovico Pizzati, the head of the movement, said. ”And we are building on a very strong base – calls for independence for the Veneto region go back to the 1970s. It may sound crazy but I think Veneto will become independent before Scotland or Catalonia.”

Luca Zaia, the governor of the Veneto region, has acknowledged the high level of support for independence but said there was no constitutional basis for Venice and the surrounding region to secede from Italy.

The pro-independence activists say they have referred their case to Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission.

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