An Italian town has been accused of racism after erecting signs warning that only people who respect its “Christian traditions” are welcome.
The signs were put up this week outside Pontoglio, near Brescia in the Lombardy region of northern Italy, by its centre-Right council.
They declared the town, known in local dialect as Pontoi, to be a beacon of “Western culture and deep Christian traditions” and warned: “Those who do not intend to respect local culture and traditions are invited to stay away.”
Some residents branded the signs “racist” and “medieval”, who called for them to be taken down immediately.
The panels delivered a particularly hostile message to the town’s large foreign population. Of its 7,000 inhabitants, 1,160 or 16 per cent are foreign-born and many of them are Muslim.
They include 238 Albanians, 203 Moroccans, 192 Romanians and 150 Indians, many of whom have lived in Pontoglio for years and have families and regular jobs.
Alessandro Seghezzi, the mayor, denied that the placards were “provocative”. “It is an invitation to respect local culture and traditions,” he said. “Ours is a culture based on mutual respect (for others).”
Paolo Bocchi, a councillor, also denied that the signs were offensive. “There’s nothing racist about them. This is just historical information – this is our tradition,” he said.
“We are looking for neither praise nor criticism – the message is very simple.”
But Laura Castelletti, the deputy mayor of nearby Brescia, said: “I thought we lived in a secular country where there was no state religion.”
It is not the first controversial step taken by the council. It recently increased the cost for foreign-born residents of obtaining a local identity document from €50 (£36) to €425.
The move was condemned as “discriminatory” by a local tribunal.
Lombardy is the stronghold of the Northern League, the Right-wing party that is gaining support with its stridently anti-immigrant, anti-refugee rhetoric.
That rhetoric has intensified since last month’s terrorist attacks in Paris.