EU chief Prodi unhurt after opening parcel bomb

BOLOGNA, Italy – A parcel bomb has exploded in the hands of EU Commission President Romano Prodi at his Bologna home but he was not hurt.

“I opened a parcel containing a book…I was holding it quite far away from me…There was a big flame but no serious damage, it just burnt some furniture and a carpet,” Prodi, smiling and appearing calm, told reporters outside his home on Saturday.

“There was explosive powder inside the book,” he said.

Italian news agencies said the parcel had been addressed to Prodi`s wife.

The former prime minister said he opened the parcel very carefully after “recent warnings”, apparently in reference to two small home-made bombs that exploded in rubbish bins near his Bologna apartment on December 22.

Prodi was not in his flat at the time of those explosions, which hurt no one and caused no damage to property. Explosives experts defused a third device placed in another nearby bin.

Bologna Police Chief Marcello Fulvio was quoted in several newspapers after those explosions as saying initial inquiries pointed towards anarchists who had targeted policemen guarding Prodi`s home rather than the politician himself.

No one at Bologna police headquarters was available for comment on Saturday evening after the parcel bomb incident.

Prodi is based in Brussels but returns regularly to his apartment in the northern city of Bologna. He is expected to return to Italian politics when his EU term ends in late 2004 and to lead the centre-left against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in elections in 2006.

The speaker of the lower house of parliament, Pieferdinando Casini, rushed to visit Prodi just after news of the parcel bomb came out. He told reporters on his way in: “This is a very worrying episode, especially in light of what happened in recent days (the earlier explosions).”

“These acts of intimidation… demonstrate that terrorism is alive and well in this city,” Casini added.

Several parcel bombs were sent to Italian police stations in October and one wounded a policeman in November when it blew up in his hands. Police have said they suspected anarchist groups in those attacks too.

Italy has also been witness in recent years to political violence carried out by the new Red Brigades, a modern incarnation of the 1970s ultra-left urban guerrilla group.

The Red Brigades claimed responsibility for the murders of two senior Labour Ministry advisers in 1999 and 2000. One of the victims, a friend of Prodi, Marco Biagi, was gunned down in front of his house in Bologna in March 2002.

Police have arrested 12 suspected members of the group in connection with the two political murders, and Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu has said Italy had broken the back of the group.