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Forensics inspect a car used by a gunman in Macerata, Italy, February 3, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer(reuters_tickers)
By Crispian Balmer
ROME (Reuters) - Leftist politicians on Sunday pinned blame for a racist shooting spree in central Italy on the far-right League party that looks set to make major gains in a March 4 national election.
Six African migrants were shot and injured on Saturday in the city of Macerata by an Italian man named as Luca Traini, who last year stood as a League candidate in a local ballot, but failed to win any votes.
Police said Traini, who has a neo-Nazi symbol tattooed above his eyebrow, admitted to carrying out the drive-by shootings and had shown no remorse.
League leader Matteo Salvini, who has forged an electoral pact with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, distanced himself from the attack, but said the violence was the direct result of mass immigration in recent years.
"If anyone is to blame, it is the government that has allowed hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants to come here without any limits," Salvini told La Stampa newspaper on Sunday.
Leftist politicians accused Salvini of stirring dangerous sentiment in a country that struggles to get to grips with the legacy of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943.
"Salvini has created fear and chaos and should apologise before the Italian people," said Laura Boldrini, speaker of the lower house of parliament and a leading figure in the left-wing Free and Equal party.
Wading into the row late on Sunday, Berlusconi said the centre-left government had let 630,000 migrants into Italy over the past four years, with only 30,000 having any right to asylum.
"The other 600,000 are a social time bomb ready to explode because they live off handouts and crime," he told a news show on his family-controlled Mediaset network, promising to make security a priority if his coalition wins power next month.
Almost 120,000 people have received some form of asylum to Italy over the past four years, while roughly 200,000 migrants live in shelters awaiting the result of asylum requests. Many others have left Italy and headed to northern Europe.
Opinion polls say the centre-left will lose next month's parliamentary election, with Berlusconi's centre-right bloc set to win the most seats, lifted in part by rising support for the League though short of an absolute majority.
After taking charge of the League in 2013, Salvini shunted the party to the far right, adopting an uncompromising anti-immigration stance and allying himself with the National Front in France and the anti-Islam Freedom Party in the Netherlands.
His strategy appears to be paying off - polls suggest the League will win up to 14 percent of the vote against 4.1 percent in 2013, challenging Berlusconi's Forza Italia party for supremacy in their centre-right bloc.
Shooting attacks are very rare in Italy and it was not clear if Saturday's violence would damage Salvini. However, pollsters say his calls for mass deportations of the mainly African migrants now living in the country have resonated in the past.
The six people injured on Saturday came from Nigeria, Mali, Ghana and Gambia. None suffered life-threatening wounds.
Traini's attack came just days after a Nigerian migrant was arrested in connection with the death of an 18-year-old Italian woman, whose dismembered body was discovered stuffed into two suitcases near Macerata.
"The most likely hypothesis is that (Traini) carried out this mad gesture as a form of vendetta," Carabinieri police commander Michele Roberti told Sky TG24 on Sunday. "He was lucid, determined and aware of what he had done."
Traini is being held in solitary confinement and is expected to be charged in the coming days with attempted murder and racism. It was not clear when a trial might be held.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; editing by Mark Heinrich and Kevin Liffey)