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Crew and passengers from more than 50 countries stuck on ship moored off San Francisco, as global infections pass 100,000 mark

Nearly half of the 46 people tested for coronavirus onboard the Grand Princess cruise ship moored off San Francisco have returned a positive result, vice president Mike Pence has said, and the fate of its more than 3,500 passengers and crew from more than 50 countries remains unclear.

Pence said 21 positive results had been recorded 19 crew members and two passengers and that those that will need to be quarantined will be quarantined. Those who will require medical help will receive it. He urged elderly Americans to consider carefully taking future cruises during the crisis.

There is little detail as to where quarantined and sick passengers will be taken. Previously, military sites have been used to quarantine holidaymakers from the Diamond Princess, moored off Yokohama. On the Grand Princess, some passengers have already complained about the handling of the situation, saying they learned of the coronavirus cases from media reports, and there are concerns for one passenger who has stage 4 cancer.

There are 2,422 guests and 1,111 crew on the vessel, with more than 140 Britons and four Australians among them.

Meanwhile, Florida reported two deaths, the first US fatalities outside the west coast. Health officials said two people in their 70s who had travelled overseas died, one in Santa Rosa County and the other near Fort Myers. The US death toll is now 16.

Globally, the virus has now killed nearly 3,500 people and infected more than 100,000 across 92 nations and territories. Italy and Iran have become the latest hotspots with sharp rises in confirmed cases, recording 4,636 and 4,747 respectively.

In China, 99 new cases were confirmed, and 29 deaths as of midnight Friday. In official data released on Saturday, Chinas exports fell 17.2%, the biggest drop since February 2019 during the trade war with the US, and imports dropped 4%.

The US government plans to take the Grand Princess to a non-commercial port where all the passengers and crew would be tested, however, President Donald Trump said on Friday he would prefer not to allow the passengers onto American soil.

I like the numbers being where they are, said Trump, who appeared to be explicitly acknowledging his political concerns about the outbreak: I dont need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasnt our fault.

Closer to the epicentre of the global outbreak, Hong Kong further sealed itself off from the outside world, with authorities advising Hongkongers against all non-essential travel abroad, and making all arrivals complete a health declaration form.

Previously, the measure, which will come into force from Sunday, was required only for mainland Chinese passengers. The city has reported 106 cases and two deaths in the past six weeks, according to its health officials.

In Australia, authorities are working to trace about 70 patients of a doctor who continued to see patients despite falling ill with coronavirus-like symptoms. He fell ill in the US during a flight from Denver to San Francisco on 27 February before flying back to Melbourne and working throughout the following week. He was later confirmed to have the virus and Toorak clinic, where he works, has since been closed.

Victorias health minister, Jenny Mikakos, said: I have to say I am flabbergasted that a doctor that has flu-like symptoms has presented to work, Mikakos said.

A Revolutionary Guard member disinfects a truck to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in the city of Sanandaj, western Iran. Photograph: Keyvan Firouzei/AP

Equally astonished were police in Sydney, who appealed for calm after a brawl broke out between three women in a supermarket over toilet paper amid continued panic buying. We just ask that people dont panic like this when they go out shopping, said acting inspector Andrew New from New South Wales police. There is no need for it. It isnt the Thunderdome, it isnt Mad Max, we dont need to do that.

There is no need for people to go out and panic buy at supermarkets, paracetamol and canned food or toilet paper.

In the meantime, passengers aboard the Grand Princess remained holed up in their rooms as they awaited word about the fate of the ship. Some said ship officials only informed them of the confirmed coronavirus cases after they first learned about it from news reports.

Passenger Kari Kolstoe, a retiree from North Dakota has stage-4 cancer and is particularly concerned. Kolstoe, 60, said she and her husband, Paul, 61, had looked forward to the cruise to Hawaii as a brief, badly needed respite from the grind of medical intervention she has endured for the past 18 months.

Karie Kolstoe has stage 4 cancer. Photograph: Kari Kolstoe/Reuters

Now facing the prospect of a two-week quarantine far from home in Grand Forks, she worried their getaway cruise will end up causing a fateful delay in her next round of chemotherapy, scheduled to begin early next week.

Its very unsettling, she said in a telephpone interview from the ship on Friday. Its still a worry that Im going to not get back.

Besides the implications for cancer treatment is the fear of falling ill from exposure to a respiratory virus especially dangerous to older people with chronic health conditions and suppressed immunity. Im very at risk for this, said Kolstoe, whose rare form of neuroendocrine cancer has spread throughout her body. Me staying on here for a lot of reasons isnt good.

Steven Smith and his wife, Michele, of Paradise, California, went on the cruise to celebrate their wedding anniversary. They said they were a bit worried but felt safe in their room, which they had left just once since Thursday to video chat with their children. Crew members wearing masks and gloves delivered trays with their food in covered plates and left them outside their door.

To pass the time they have been watching television, reading and looking out the window, they said. Thank God, we have a window! Steven said.

An epidemiologist who studies the spread of virus particles said the recirculated air from a cruise ships ventilation system, plus the close quarters and communal settings, made passengers and crew vulnerable to infectious diseases. Theyre not designed as quarantine facilities, to put it mildly, said Don Milton of the University of Maryland. Youre going to amplify the infection by keeping people on the boat.

Another Princess ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined for two weeks in Yokohama, Japan, last month because of the virus. Ultimately, about 700 of the 3,700 people aboard became infected in what experts pronounced a public-health failure, with the vessel essentially becoming a floating germ factory.

In the US, officials in Austin cancelled this years SXSW festival, a major tech and music conference, amid coronavirus concerns. SXSW, which draws 400,000 visitors, was scheduled for 13 to 22 March.

Austins mayor, Steve Adler, said: Ive gone ahead and declared a local disaster in the city and associated with that, have issued an order that effectively cancels SXSW.

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Excitement for The Europas Awards for European Tech Startups is heating up. Here is the first wave of speakers and judges — with more coming!

The Awards — which have been running for over 10 years — will be held on 25 June 2020 in London, U.K. on the front lawn of the Geffrye Museum in Hoxton, London — creating a fantastic and fun garden-party atmosphere in the heart of London’s tech startup scene.

TechCrunch is once more the exclusive media sponsor of the awards and conference, alongside The Pathfounder.

The application form to enter is here.

We’re scouting for the top late-stage seed and Series A startups in 22 categories.

You can nominate a startup, accelerator or venture investor that you think deserves to be recognized for their achievements in the last 12 months.


For the 2020 awards, we’ve overhauled the categories to a set that we believe better reflects the range of innovation, diversity and ambition we see in the European startups being built and launched today. This year we are particularly looking at startups that are able to address the SDGs/Globals Boals.

The Europas Awards
The Europas Awards results are based on voting by experts, experienced founders, hand-picked investors and the industry itself.

But the key to it is that there are no “off-limits areas” at The Europas, so attendees can mingle easily with VIPs.

Timeline of The Europas Awards deadlines:

Submissions now open!
25 March 2020 – Submissions close
14 April – Public voting begins
25 April – Public voting ends
8 June – Shortlist Announced
25 June – Awards evening, winners announced

Amazing networking

We’re also shaking up the awards dinner itself. There are more opportunities to network. Our awards ceremony this year will be in the setting of a garden/lawn party, where you’ll be able to meet and mingle more easily, with free-flowing drinks and a wide selection of street food (including vegetarian/vegan). The ceremony itself will last less than 45 minutes, with the rest of the time dedicated to networking. If you’d like to talk about sponsoring or exhibiting, please contact Claire Dobson on

Instead of thousands and thousands of people, think of a great summer event with the most interesting and useful people in the industry, including key investors and leading entrepreneurs.

The Europas Awards have been going for the last 10 years, and we’re the only independent and editorially driven event to recognise the European tech startup scene. The winners have been featured in Reuters, Bloomberg, VentureBeat, Forbes,, The Memo, Smart Company, CNET, many others — and of course, TechCrunch.

• No secret VIP rooms, which means you get to interact with the speakers

• Key founders and investors attending

• Journalists from major tech titles, newspapers and business broadcasters

The Pathfounder Afternoon Workshops
In the afternoon prior to the awards we will be holding a special, premium content event, The Pathfounder, designed be a “fast download” into the London tech scene for European founders looking to raise money or re-locate to London. Sessions include “How to Craft Your Story”; “Term Sheets”; “Building a Shareholding Structure”; Investor Panel; Meet the Press; and a session from former Europas winners. Followed by the awards and after-party!

The Europas “Diversity Pass”
We’d like to encourage more diversity in tech! That’s why we’ve set aside a block of free tickets to ensure that pre-seed female and BAME founders are represented at The Europas. This limited tranche of free tickets ensures that we include more women and people of colour who are specifically “pre-seed” or “seed-stage” tech startup founders. If you are a women/BAME founder, apply here for a chance to be considered for one of the limited free diversity passes to the event.

Meet some of our first speakers and judges:

Anne Boden
Starling Bank
Anne Boden is founder and CEO of Starling Bank, a fast-growing U.K. digital bank targeting millions of users who live their lives on their phones. After a distinguished career in senior leadership at some of the world’s best-known financial heavyweights, she set out to build her own mobile bank from scratch in 2014. Today, Starling has opened more than one million current accounts for individuals and small businesses and raised hundreds of millions of pounds in backing. Anne was awarded an MBE for services to financial technology in 2018.

Nate Lanxon (Speaker)
Editor and Tech Correspondent
Nate is an editor and tech correspondent for Bloomberg, based in London. For over a decade, he has particularly focused on the consumer technology sector, and the trends shaping the global industry. Previous to this, he was senior editor at Bloomberg Media and was head of digital editorial for in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Nate has held numerous roles across the most respected titles in tech, including stints as editor of, editor-in-chief of Ars Technica UK and senior editor at CBS-owned CNET. Nate launched his professional career as a journalist by founding a small tech and gaming website called Tech’s Message, which is now the name of his weekly technology podcast hosted at

Tania Boler
CEO and founder
/> Tania is an internationally recognized women’s health expert and has held leadership positions for various global NGOs and the United Nations. Passionate about challenging taboo women’s issues, Tania founded Elvie in 2013, partnering with Alexander Asseily to create a global hub of connected health and lifestyle products for women.

Kieran O’Neill
CEO and co-founder
Thread makes it easy for guys to dress well. They combine expert stylists with powerful AI to recommend the perfect clothes for each person. Thread is used by more than 1 million men in the U.K., and has raised $35 million from top investors, including Balderton Capital, the founders of DeepMind and the billionaire former owner of Warner Music. Prior to Thread, Kieran founded one of the first video sharing websites at age 15 and sold it for $1.25 million at age 19. He was then CEO and co-founder of Playfire, the largest social network for gamers, which he grew to 1.5 million customers before being acquired in 2012. He’s a member of the Forbes, Drapers and Financial Times 30 Under 30 lists.

Clare Jones
Chief Commercial Officer
Clare is the chief commercial officer of what3words; prior to this, her background was in the development and growth of social enterprises and in impact investment. Clare was featured in the 2019 Forbes 30 under 30 list for technology and is involved with London companies tackling social/environmental challenges. Clare also volunteers with the Streetlink project, doing health outreach work with vulnerable women in South London.

Luca Bocchio
Luca Bocchio joined Accel in 2018 and focuses on consumer internet, fintech and software businesses. Luca led Accel’s investment in Luko, Bryter and Brumbrum. Luca also helped lead Accel’s investment and ongoing work in Sennder. Prior to Accel, Luca was with H14, where he invested in global early and growth-stage opportunities, such as Deliveroo, GetYourGuide, Flixbus, SumUp and SecretEscapes. Luca previously advised technology, industrial and consumer companies on strategy with Bain & Co. in Europe and Asia. Luca is from Italy and graduated from LIUC University.

Bernhard Niesner
CEO and c-founder
/> Bernhard co-founded busuu in 2008 following an MBA project and has since led the company to become the world’s largest community for language learning, with more than 90 million users across the globe. Before starting busuu, Bernhard worked as a consultant at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. He graduated summa cum laude in International Business from the Vienna University of Economics and Business and holds an MBA with honours from IE Business School. Bernhard is an active mentor and business angel in the startup community and an advisor to the Austrian Government on education affairs. Bernhard recently received the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2018 UK Awards in the Disruptor category.

Chris Morton
CEO and founder
Chris is the founder and CEO of Lyst, the world’s biggest fashion search platform used by 104 million shoppers each year. Including over 6 million products from brands including Burberry, Fendi, Gucci, Prada and Saint Laurent, Lyst offers shoppers convenience and unparalleled choice in one place. Launched in London in 2010, Lyst’s investors include LVMH, 14W, Balderton and Accel Partners. Prior to founding Lyst, Chris was an investor at Benchmark Capital and Balderton Capital in London, focusing on the early-stage consumer internet space. He holds an MA in physics and philosophy from Cambridge University.

Husayn Kassai
CEO and co-founder
/> Husayn Kassai is the Onfido CEO and co-founder. Onfido helps businesses digitally onboard users by verifying any government ID and comparing it with the person’s facial biometrics. Founded in 2012, Onfido has grown to a team of 300 across SF, NYC and London; received over $100 million in funding from Salesforce, Microsoft and others; and works with over 1,500 fintech, banking and marketplace clients globally. Husayn is a WEF Tech Pioneer; a Forbes Contributor; and Forbes’ “30 Under 30”. He has a BA in economics and management from Keble College, Oxford.

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Back in 2015, Google’s ATAP team demoed a new kind of wearable tech at Google I/O that used functional fabrics and conductive yarns to allow you to interact with your clothing and, by extension, the phone in your pocket. The company then released a jacket with Levi’s in 2017, but that was expensive, at $350, and never really quite caught on. Now, however, Jacquard is back. A few weeks ago, Saint Laurent launched a backpack with Jacquard support, but at $1,000, that was very much a luxury product. Today, however, Google and Levi’s are announcing their latest collaboration: Jacquard-enabled versions of Levi’s Trucker Jacket.

These jackets, which will come in different styles, including the Classic Trucker and the Sherpa Trucker, and in men’s and women’s versions, will retail for $198 for the Classic Trucker and $248 for the Sherpa Trucker. In addition to the U.S., it’ll be available in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.K.

The idea here is simple and hasn’t changed since the original launch: a dongle in your jacket’s cuff connects to conductive yarns in your jacket. You can then swipe over your cuff, tap it or hold your hand over it to issue commands to your phone. You use the Jacquard phone app for iOS or Android to set up what each gesture does, with commands ranging from saving your location to bringing up the Google Assistant in your headphones, from skipping to the next song to controlling your camera for selfies or simply counting things during the day, like the coffees you drink on the go. If you have Bose noise-canceling headphones, the app also lets you set a gesture to turn your noise cancellation on or off. In total, there are currently 19 abilities available, and the dongle also includes a vibration motor for notifications.


What’s maybe most important, though, is that this (re-)launch sets up Jacquard as a more modular technology that Google and its partners hope will take it from a bit of a gimmick to something you’ll see in more places over the next few months and years.

“Since we launched the first product with Levi’s at the end of 2017, we were focused on trying to understand and working really hard on how we can take the technology from a single product […] to create a real technology platform that can be used by multiple brands and by multiple collaborators,” Ivan Poupyrev, the head of Jacquard by Google told me. He noted that the idea behind projects like Jacquard is to take things we use every day, like backpacks, jackets and shoes, and make them better with technology. He argued that, for the most part, technology hasn’t really been added to these things that we use every day. He wants to work with companies like Levi’s to “give people the opportunity to create new digital touchpoints to their digital life through things they already have and own and use every day.”

What’s also important about Jacquard 2.0 is that you can take the dongle from garment to garment. For the original jacket, the dongle only worked with this one specific type of jacket; now, you’ll be able to take it with you and use it in other wearables as well. The dongle, too, is significantly smaller and more powerful. It also now has more memory to support multiple products. Yet, in my own testing, its battery still lasts for a few days of occasional use, with plenty of standby time.


Poupyrev also noted that the team focused on reducing cost, “in order to bring the technology into a price range where it’s more attractive to consumers.” The team also made lots of changes to the software that runs on the device and, more importantly, in the cloud to allow it to configure itself for every product it’s being used in and to make it easier for the team to add new functionality over time (when was the last time your jacket got a software upgrade?).

He actually hopes that over time, people will forget that Google was involved in this. He wants the technology to fade into the background. Levi’s, on the other hand, obviously hopes that this technology will enable it to reach a new market. The 2017 version only included the Levi’s Commuter Trucker Jacket. Now, the company is going broader with different styles.

“We had gone out with a really sharp focus on trying to adapt the technology to meet the needs of our commuter customer, which a collection of Levi’s focused on urban cyclists,” Paul Dillinger, the VP of Global Product Innovation at Levi’s, told me when I asked him about the company’s original efforts around Jacquard. But there was a lot of interest beyond that community, he said, yet the built-in features were very much meant to serve the needs of this specific audience and not necessarily relevant to the lifestyles of other users. The jackets, of course, were also pretty expensive. “There was an appetite for the technology to do more and be more accessible,” he said — and the results of that work are these new jackets.


Dillinger also noted that this changes the relationship his company has with the consumer, because Levi’s can now upgrade the technology in your jacket after you bought it. “This is a really new experience,” he said. “And it’s a completely different approach to fashion. The normal fashion promise from other companies really is that we promise that in six months, we’re going to try to sell you something else. Levi’s prides itself on creating enduring, lasting value in style and we are able to actually improve the value of the garment that was already in the consumer’s closet.”

I spent about a week with the Sherpa jacket before today’s launch. It does exactly what it promises to do. Pairing my phone and jacket took less than a minute and the connection between the two has been perfectly stable. The gesture recognition worked very well — maybe better than I expected. What it can do, it does well, and I appreciate that the team kept the functionality pretty narrow.

Whether Jacquard is for you may depend on your lifestyle, though. I think the ideal user is somebody who is out and about a lot, wearing headphones, given that music controls are one of the main features here. But you don’t have to be wearing headphones to get value out of Jacquard. I almost never wear headphones in public, but I used it to quickly tag where I parked my car, for example, and when I used it with headphones, I found using my jacket’s cuffs easier to forward to the next song than doing the same on my headphones. Your mileage may vary, of course, and while I like the idea of using this kind of tech so you need to take out your phone less often, I wonder if that ship hasn’t sailed at this point — and whether the controls on your headphones can’t do most of the things Jacquard can. Google surely wants Jacquard to be more than a gimmick, but at this stage, it kind of still is.


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The long read: Italys CasaPound has been central to normalising fascism again in the country of its birth. Now theyre trying to enter parliament

On the night of 27 December 2003, five men broke into a huge, empty office complex in Rome, just south of the citys main railway station, Roma Termini. A few days earlier, the men had put up fake fliers, appealing to the public for help to find a lost black cat called Pound. It was a way to avoid suspicion as they surveyed the building before breaking in.

Nothing was left to chance: the date, between Christmas and New Year, was chosen because there wouldnt be many people around. Even the name and colour of the cat wasnt casual: Pound was a nod to the American poet and fascist evangelist Ezra Pound. And black was the colour associated with their hero, Benito Mussolini. They planned to start a radio station from inside their new building called Radio Bandiera Nera Black Flag Radio.

The man giving orders that night was Gianluca Iannone. Then 30, he was tall, burly and brusque. With his shaved head and thick beard, he looked a bit like a Hells Angel. He had me ne frego (I dont care the slogan used by Mussolinis troops) tattooed diagonally across the left side of his neck. Iannone was famous in fascist circles as the lead singer in a rock band called ZZA, and as the owner of a pub in Rome, the Cutty Sark, which was a meeting point for Romes extreme right.

The five men were nervous and excited as they took turns working on the wooden front door with crowbars. The others gathered close by, to watch and to provide cover. Once the door gave, they piled inside, pushing it shut behind them. What they found was breathtaking. There was a large entrance hall on the ground floor, a grand staircase, even a lift. There were 23 office suites in the seven-storey block. The previous occupier, a government quango, had moved out the year before, so the place was freezing and damp. But it was huge, covering thousands of square metres. The cherry on the cake was the terrace: a large, walled roof from which you could see the whole of Rome. The men gathered together up there and hugged, feeling that they had planted a flag in the centre of the Italian capital in a gritty neighbourhood, Esquilino, which was home to many African and Asian immigrants. Iannone dubbed their building the Italian embassy.

That building became the headquarters of a new movement called CasaPound. Over the next 15 years, it would open another 106 centres across Italy. Iannone, who had been in the Italian army for three years, described each new centre as a territorial reconquest. Because every centre was self-financing, and because they claimed to serve the people, those new centres in turn opened gyms, pubs, bookshops, parachute clubs, diving clubs, motorbike clubs, football teams, restaurants, nightclubs, tattoo parlours and barbershops. CasaPound suddenly seemed everywhere. But it presented itself as something beyond politics: this was metapolitics, echoing the influential fascist philosopher Giovanni Gentile, who wrote in 1925 that fascism was before all else a total conception of life.

CasaPounds headquarters in a former government office building in Rome. Photograph: NurPhoto/Getty

Until then, fascist revivals had usually been seen, by the Italian mainstream, as nostalgic, uncultured and thuggish. CasaPound was different. It presented itself as forward-looking, cultured, even inclusive. Iannone had been drawn to fascism in his youth because of a fascination with the symbols, and now he creatively mixed and matched code words, slogans and symbols from Mussolinis ventennio (as his 20-year rule is known), and turned them into 21st-century song lyrics, logos and political positions. In a country in which style and pose are paramount, CasaPound was fascism for hipsters. There were reports of violence, but that for young men who felt aimless, sidelined, even emasculated only added to the attraction. Many flocked to pay their 15 to become members.

By the early 2000s, it was no longer taboo for mainstream politicians to speak warmly of Mussolini: admirers of Il Duce had become government ministers, and many fringe, fascist parties were growing in strength Forza Nuova, Fronte Sociale Nazionale, and various skinhead groups. But where the other fascists seemed like throwbacks to the 1930s, CasaPound focused on contemporary causes and staged creative campaigns: in 2006 they hung 400 mannequins all over Rome, with signs protesting about the citys housing crisis. In 2012, CasaPound militants occupied the European Unions office in Rome and dumped sacks of coal outside to protest on behalf of Italian miners. Many of their policies looked surprising: they were against immigration, of course, but on the supposedly progressive grounds that the exploitation of immigrant labourers represented a return to slavery.

Most Italians have been watching CasaPound with a mixture of fascination and alarm for 15 years, trying to work out quite what it is. The movement claims it is a democratic and credible variant of fascism, but it is accused of encouraging violence and racism. CasaPound militants have repeatedly told me that theyre a unifying force for Italy, but many Italians worry that they are merely recreating historical divisions in a society with a profound identity crisis.

That CasaPound question is now being posed with urgency, because it is aspiring to enter parliament next month. On 4 March, Italians will go to the polls in a general election in which centre-right and far-right parties are expected to triumph. CasaPounds own electoral chances are slim: although in the past they have received nearly 10% of the vote in certain constituencies, they will need at least 3% of all votes nationwide to gain any parliamentary seats, which seems almost inconceivable. Still, the proliferation and growth of rival far-right parties is not a sign of the movements obsolescence, but of its success. For 15 years, CasaPound has been like the yeast in the far-right dough the ingredient that makes everything around it rise.

CasaPound germinated in the late 1990s as a sort of Mussolini-admiring drinking club. Every Monday night, a dozen men would meet in the Cutty Sark and plan what next, as one recalled. It was there that Iannone met the man who would become his deputy, Simone Di Stefano. Di Stefano was two years younger and quieter, but a lifelong rightwing militant. We were situationists trying to wake people up, Di Stefano says, looking back, bohemian artists based on models like Obey Giant [Shepard Fairey] and Banksy.

In 1997, Iannone, Di Stefano and their mates had put up 10,000 stickers all over Rome: above eyeless faces, with barcoded foreheads and demented smiles, were just three unexplained words: Zeta Zero Alfa. It was the name of a punk rock band Iannone had decided to launch, its name hinting at both the American rock legends ZZ Top and at the notion that the world needed to go back to the beginning, back to the alfa.

Zetazeroalfa became, in the late 90s and early 2000s, an evangelising force for fascism. Touring all over Italy, the band sang raucous punk-rock songs with lyrics such as nel dubbio, mena (if in doubt, beat up) or amo questo mio popolo fiero / che non conosce pace (I love this proud people / that doesnt know peace). In those early days, Iannone had about 100 hardcore fans, who doubled as roadies, crew, security and salesmen. The group sold as many T-shirts as they did CDs, with lines such as Picchia il vip (beat up the VIP) and Accademia della sassaiola (academy of stone-throwing). The song that became a crowd favourite was Cinghiamattanza, meaning death by belt: at all the gigs it became a ritual for fans to take off their belts and leather each other.

In those years, Iannone was more rock star than blackshirt. His informal movement was more about music than manifestos. CasaPounds in-house lawyer, Domenico Di Tullio, was once the bassist and vocalist in a far-right band called Malabestia, evil beast. He was introduced to CasaPound when Iannone was teaching Thai boxing in a gym. CasaPound has always been, Di Tullio said, halfway between politics and rocknroll. Iannone was a canny entrepreneur: he co-founded a right-wing music label called Rupe Tarpeia the name of the Roman rock from which traitors were thrown to their deaths.

CasaPound leader Gianluca Iannone. Photograph: Alamy

Iannone who was obsessed with Chuck Palahniuks Fight Club had been arrested a few times for assault, once for beating up an off-duty carabiniere at Predappio, the burial shrine of Mussolini, because he was drunk and being stupid. Revisionist historians and rightwing politicians in the 1990s worked hard to rehabilitate Mussolini: expressing admiration for him was no longer considered heretical, but a sign of courageous thinking. Mussolinis regime was airbrushed as benign he never killed anybody said Silvio Berlusconi, who became prime minister for the first time in 1994 and depicted as superior to the corruption and chaos of the avowedly anti-fascist First Republic that lasted from 1948 until 1992. Berlusconi and his far-right allies scorned the traditional anti-fascist celebrations of 25 April, the date of Italians liberation from Nazi fascism.

A canny politician, Berlusconi wasnt setting this agenda but following it. He knew it was a vote-winner. Buildings all over Italy, but especially in the south, still bear the faded letters of the word DUCE. There are many monuments, and even a mountain, that still bear his name. A country that doesnt renounce its past as much as absorb it, Italy was, by the turn of the millennium, more than ready to include Mussolinis grandchildren in the body politic.

In July 2002 the militants who had gathered around Gianluca Iannone and ZZA occupied their first building, an abandoned school north of Rome. Occupations had always been a form of protest by the far left in Italy: many squats had become social centres and were tacitly tolerated by police and politicians. Now the far right was trying the tactic. Iannone called the occupied school Casa Montag, after the protagonist of the Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451, Guy Montag.

It was the first of many occasions in which CasaPound would confound ideological expectations. Most people read Bradburys novel as a critique of an anti-intellectual, totalitarian state, but for the CasaPounders it represented their own oppression by the forces of anti-fascism in Italian politics, who they regarded as metaphorical book-burners. Anticipating the rhetoric of the alt-right, CasaPound claimed to be a space where debate is free.

Within 18 months, though, Iannones men had upgraded and moved to the very centre of Rome, occupying the huge building in Esquilino. Their aim in 2003 wasnt political in any parliamentary sense: the militants wanted to live cheaply together, to create a space for their ideals and, most of all, to make a statement.

In the entrance hall of their new home, CasaPounders painted a hundred or so surnames in garish colours, suggesting the ideological lineage of their movement. Many were obvious Mussolini, Oswald Mosley, Nietzsche, the writer and proto-fascist Gabriele DAnnunzio, the Italian fascist philosopher Julius Evola but many more were bizarre or wishful: Homer, Plato, Dante, Kerouac and even cartoon characters such as Captain Harlock and Corto Maltese. All were men.

The movement never hid its admiration for Benito Mussolini. Photos and slogans of Il Duce were put up. Every believer was referred to as a camerata (the fascist version of comrade) and exchanged the old-fashioned legionary handshake, grasping each others forearm rather than the hand. Above the door on the outside of the building, in beige, faux-marble, CASAPOVND appeared.

What made CasaPound unique was its game of smoke-and-mirrors with a fascinated Italian media. Both Di Stefano and Iannone were very media-savvy: Di Stefano was a graphic artist, and Iannone, after the army, had worked as a directors assistant on Unomattina, a breakfast show on RAI, the state broadcaster. They promoted CasaPound via prank calls to newspapers, the invasion of TV studios, the frenetic production of posters and stickers, the organisation of debates and the occasional act of violence.

They also began pushing for policies the left had given up hope of ever hearing again, such as the renationalisation of Italys banking, communications, health, transport and energy sectors. They cited the most progressive aspects of Mussolinis politics, focusing on his social doctrines regarding housing, unions, sanitation and a minimum wage. CasaPound accepted that the racial laws of 1938 (which introduced antisemitism and deportation) were errors; the movement claimed to be opposed to any form of discrimination based on racial or religious criteria, or on sexual inclination.

CasaPounds concentration on housing also appealed to voters of the old left. Its logo was a turtle (an animal that always has a roof over its head) and Ezra Pounds name was used in part because he had railed, in his poem Canto XLV, against rent (considered usury) and rapacious landlords. One of the first things CasaPound did in its occupied building was to hang sheets from the windows protesting against rent hikes and evictions in 2009, there were an average of 25 evictions in Rome every day. They campaigned for a social mortgage, in which rental payments would effectively become mortgage payments, turning the tenant into a homeowner. Within months, they had given shelter to dozens of homeless families, as well as to many camerati down on their luck.

A CasaPound march in Rome in 2016. Photograph: Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty

CasaPound presented itself as the house of the ideologically homeless too. Iannone said it offered a space of liberty, where anyone who has something to say and cant say it elsewhere will always find political asylum. It adopted a pose of being not a part of the debate, but the receptacle of it. It reminded some of Mussolinis line that fascism is the church of all the heresies.

Iannone was always a proponent of action. He knew fascism had always grown through taking the initiative: he spoke frequently about the proto-fascist arditi (daring ones), a squad of volunteers fighting under DAnnunzio, who seized the town of Fiume after the first world war in an attempt to resolve a border dispute between Italy and what was then Yugoslavia. Iannone knew that Mussolini had launched his first fascist manifesto from an occupied building in the piazza of San Sepolcro in Milan. But even here, in action, CasaPound was borrowing leftwing clothes: imitating the strategy of the Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, it aimed for what Gramsci had called cultural hegemony by infiltrating the cultural and leisure activities of everyday Italians.

So CasaPound began doing outreach on an unprecedented scale: in 2006 a student movement called Blocco Studentesco was started. A fascist womens movement, Tempo di Essere Madri (time to be a mother), was founded by Iannones wife. A pseudo-environmental group, La Foresta Che Avanza, began in order to put the regime into nature. (Earlier this month, 200 volunteers from La Foresta gathered to repair the huge tribute to Mussolini the word DUX, written with pine trees on a mountainside in Antrodoco.) The media whether intrigued, anxious or excited reported on every initiative: as Di Stefano told me, everything CasaPound did became news.

There was plenty of ideological contortionism. In 2007, CasaPound started describing itself not as fascist, but as estremo centro alto (the name of a ZZA song, which means extreme, high centre). It namechecked improbable influences, such as Che Guevara and the great anarchist singer-songwriters Rino Gaetano and Fabrizio De Andr.

That obfuscation was a continuation of what Italian fascism, contrary to stereotype, had often done. Mussolini once said: We dont believe in dogmatic programmes we allow ourselves the luxury of being aristocratic and democratic, conservatives and progressives, reactionaries and revolutionaries, legals and illegals. Mussolinis totalitarianism often implied not fierce clarity, but slipperiness. Mussolini did not have a philosophy, Umberto Eco once wrote. He had only rhetoric.

To political scientists, this creative, eccentric force from the political extremities was captivating. Between 2006 and 2014, dozens of books were published on the movement some by CasaPounds friends, but others by academic presses in Italy and abroad. The latter fretted about the sinister implications of Mussolinis favourite slogan: libro e moschetto fascista perfetto (the rhyme boasting that book and musket make the perfect fascist). How important, people wondered, was that musket? CasaPound sometimes relished its violent reputation, and was sometimes angered by it. It proudly called its occupations and stunts examples of guerrilla tactics, but other times their tone was softer: they were just atti goliardici, bohemian acts.

That paradoxical attitude towards violence was encapsulated in the huge red letters painted on a central wall of CasaPounds HQ: Santa Teppa Holy Mob. It was the phrase Mussolini once used to describe his blackshirts. CasaPound militants say that theyre constantly under attack from leftwing social centres and anti-fascists. When you get to know them, though, the position is slightly different. Were not a violent organisation, one militant told me, but were not non-violent either.

The fierce fighting between Italys partisans and fascists from 1943 to 1945 sometimes called the countrys civil war continued sporadically after the end of the second world war. But ever since 1952, when a law was passed that criminalised efforts to resuscitate Mussolinis fascist party, Italian fascists have seen themselves as the victims, rather than the instigators, of state repression. In reality, however, there was no Italian equivalent of Germanys denazification: throughout the postwar period, one far-right political party the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI) kept alive the flame of Mussolini, at its height in 1972 winning 9% or 2.7m votes. Various radical splinter groups emerged from within the MSI the most notorious being Pino Rautis Ordine Nuovo, which was involved in the bombing of a bank in 1969 that killed 17 civilians.

That atrocity was the beginning of a period known as the years of lead: in the 1970s, far-right and far-left groups fought, shot, bombed and kidnapped not only each other, but also the public and representatives of the state. Both sides used the rhetoric of the 1940s, recalling the heroism or disloyalty of the fascists and anti-fascists from three decades earlier.

But amid the violence of the 1970s, there were attempts to tap into the softer side of the far-right, with festivals where music, graphic design, history and ecology were discussed. They were called Hobbit camps, since JRR Tolkien had long been a hero for Italian neo-fascists, who liked to quote Bilbo Baggins line that deep roots dont freeze. There was a popular leftwing slur that fascists belonged in the sewers, and so a magazine called La Voce della Fogna (The Voice of the Sewer) was launched by unapologetics.

The neo-fascist movement that most influenced CasaPound, Terza Posizione, was founded in 1978. It claimed to reject both capitalism and communism, and like CasaPound tried to revive Mussolinis social policies. (Iannone has its symbol tattooed on the middle finger of his left hand. His deputy, Simone Di Stefano, spent a year in London working with one of the Terza Posizione founders in the 1990s.)

In the same year, two young militants were shot outside the offices of the MSI in Acca Larentia in Rome. That evening, when a journalist allegedly disrespected the victims by flicking a cigarette butt in a pool of blood, a riot began in which a third young man was killed by a policeman. Other deaths followed that initial bloodshed: the father of one of the young men killed committed suicide. On the first anniversary of Acca Larentia, another militant was killed by police.

Acca Larentia seemed proof, to fascists, that they were sitting ducks. Some renounced extremism altogether, but others simply took it further. A far-right terrorist organisation, NAR (the nuclei of armed revolutionaries) was founded and took part in variouskillingsand the bombing of Bologna railway station in 1980, in which 85 people died. As a state crackdown on the far-right began, the three founders of Terza Posizione fled abroad and the leaders of NAR were either killed or imprisoned.

For a generation, through the 1980s and early 1990s,fascism seemed finished. But when Silvio Berlusconi burst into politics looking for anti-communist allies, he identified the MSI as his ideal political partner. The party renamed itself the National Alliance, and became the second-largest component in Berlusconis ruling centre-right coalition in 1994. The wind had changed completely: many of the militants on the far-right in the 1970s old hands from the MSI were now in government. In 1999 the three founders of Terza Posizione returned from exile.

That was the context in which CasaPound, in the early 2000s, first began to flourish: it was full of marginalised men who had grown up in the wilderness years of the 80s and early 90s. They were convinced that fascists had been mistreated and killed by communist hatred and servants of the state, as a plaque memorialising the murders at Acca Larentia put it.

But in fact, their bread was buttered on both sides: they presented themselves as underdogs, but their ideological fathers were now at the very top of Italian political power. They could claim to be the victims of repressive laws banning the revival of fascism, but because those laws were never enforced, they could proselytise with impunity.

Benito Mussolini in 1927. Photograph: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

By 2005, CasaPound was toying with electoral politics. One its militants stood for election in Lazio on the electoral list of one of Berlusconis cabinet ministers, who had been a press officer of the MSI. From 2006 until 2008 CasaPound joined another offshoot of the MSI, the Tricolour Flame. Neither alliance produced any seats in parliament, but both afforded more publicity and respectability to the slow-moving but determined turtle.

In 2008, Gianni Alemanno, who had been imprisoned as a far-right militant, became mayor of Rome. He looked on CasaPounds occupations with a decidedly indulgent eye and that same year CasaPound occupied another building: an abandoned railway station near the Stadio Olimpico. Called Area 19 (1919 was the year Mussolini announced the first fascist manifesto), it became a gym by day and nightclub by night.

Meanwhile young CasaPound heavies enjoyed public shows of force. In 2009, Blocco Studentesco CasaPounds youth movement came to Romes central square, Piazza Navona, armed with truncheons painted with the Italian tricolor. They found a use for them on leftwing students. When one TV programme criticised Blocco Studentesco, its offices were occupied by CasaPound militants.

On 13 December 2011, Gianluca Casseri, a CasaPound sympathiser in Tuscany, left home with a Magnum 357 in his bag. He was a taciturn loner, 50 years old, rotund with short, grey hair, but had found a home in CasaPound: he had held a launch for his fantasy novel The Keys of Chaos at the local club.

On that December morning, Casseri had a plan to shoot as many immigrants as possible. He went to a square in Florence and, at 12.30pm, killed two Senegalese men, Samb Modou and Diop Mor. He shot another man, Moustapha Dieng, in the back and throat and then got in his blue VW Polo and drove off. Just over two hours later, Casseri was at the citys central market, where he shot two more men, Sougou Mor and Mbenghe Cheike, who survived the attack. He then turned his gun on himself in the markets underground carpark.

After Casseris murders, CasaPounds leaders were invited on to national television to face the accusation that they were fomenting violence. In a special programme about the killings, the former president of the Rai TV channel accused Iannone of having ideologically armed the killer. Ezra Pounds daughter, Mary de Rachewiltz, began a legal action (which she eventually lost) to stop CasaPound using and sullying her fathers name. They distort his ideas, she said, theyre violent. [My father] wanted an encounter between civilisations.

It was true that CasaPounds language and imagery was relentlessly combative. In its Rome bookshop Iron Head you can buy posters of insurgents from far-flung civil wars with automatic weapons wearing ZZA T-shirts. They speak about trincerocrazia, an -ocracy for people who have done their time in the trenches. The shell of their turtle logo also has a military meaning: it represents the testuggine, the carapace of shields used by the Roman army. All of this makes the movement edgy and decidedly testosteronic: 87% of the movements Facebook supporters are male and 62% are between 16 and 30.

Its a movement that is tight, compact and united. When youre among the militants inside that shell, the disdain for the outside world is almost cultish. The separation between insider and outsider is clear and loyalty is total: I do whatever Gianluca [Iannone] tells me to, one female militant has said. The movement has published a political and historical glossary for all novice militants, so they always know what to say.

Iannone himself is forcefully charismatic and physically imposing tall, tattooed and gravel-voiced and perhaps even bears a slight resemblance to Mussolini. Its easy to see why lost youngsters might be desperate to please (and scared to displease) him. Hes a very pure leader, Di Stefano told me, with evident admiration, as we took a walk with his two chihuahuas called Punk and Rock.

By 2013, aggressive leadership was what a lot of Italians were longing for. The country was facing an unprecedented crisis of confidence. In 2010 youth unemployment was at almost 30%, and would rise to over 40% by 2015. That year, Italys national statistics office suggested that almost 5 million Italians were living in absolute poverty. The degradation in certain suburbs the lack of rubbish collections was just the most visible example suggested that the Italian state was, in places, almost entirely absent. The success of the populist Five Star Movement coming from nowhere to win 25.55% of the vote in the 2013 elections showed the Italian electorate would respond to a party that was angry and anti-establishment. (The fathers of two of the leading lights of the Five Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio and Alessandro Di Battista, were both in the MSI.)

Inside the CasaPound headquarters in Rome. Photograph: Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

By then CasaPound was becoming known far beyond Italy. The lift in its Rome HQ was covered by stickers with the logos of far-right pilgrims from across the globe. CasaPound had always voraciously consumed foreign trends and repackaged them for an Italian audience: it had absorbed the anticapitalist ideas of Frances Nouvelle Droite (new right) movement, and built friendships with members of Greeces neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. Now French visitors started talking about a 2012 book by Renaud Camus called The Great Replacement: it spoke of the idea that native Europeans would soon be completely sidelined and substituted by waves of immigrants. It was a theory that had caught on in the US. This was the root of the identitarian doctrine, which claimed that globalisation had created a homogeneous culture with no distinct national or cultural identities. True pluralism ethnopluralism would mean racial separation.

These ideas famously influenced both Steve Bannon at Breitbart and the American white supremacist leader Richard Spencer but they also percolated into the thinking of CasaPounds cultural attache, Adriano Scianca. Scianca, who lives in Umbria, is the editor of CasaPounds magazine, Primato Nazionale (which has a circulation, they say, of 25,000). In 2016 he published a book called The Sacred Identity: The cancellation of a people from the face of the earth, he wrote, is factually the number one [aim] in the diary of all the global oligarchs. It sounds silly, but these ideas soon made their way into mainstream newspapers and very quickly racial separation became official CasaPound policy.

Throughout 2014 and 2015, CasaPound leaders organised rallies against asylum centres that were due to open. They formed a movement, with Matteo Salvinis Northern League (a formerly separatist movement which was, by then, purely nationalist) called Sovereignty: Italians First was the slogan. All over Italy from Gorizia to Milan, from Vicenza to Genoa every time a vacant building was converted into an asylum centre, CasaPound members would make friends among the locals opposing the centres, distributing food parcels, clearing rubbish, and offering strategies and strong-arms. (CasaPound argued that because a proportion of immigrants had arrived illegally, their opposition was about legality rather than race.)

Simone Di Stefano is CasaPounds political leader and its most prominent candidate in next weeks elections. With his neat, salt-and-pepper hair and trim beard, he looks like any other moderate politician. But his problem is now the opposite of his rhetoric: its not that the Italian establishment excludes the far-right from politics, but that there are now so many far right parties, CasaPound seems just one among many. Di Stefano is, therefore, distinguishing himself by campaigning to leave the European Union and urging a military intervention in Libya to halt the flow of migrants: We have to resolve the problem of Africa, he told me.

These ideas are not likely to appeal to many Italian voters but CasaPounds job is already done. It has been essential to the normalisation of fascism. At the end of 2017, Il Tempo newspaper announced Benito Mussolini as its person of the year. It wasnt being facetious: Il Duce barged into the news agenda every week last year. A few weeks ago, even a leftwing politician in Florence said that nobody in this country has done more than Mussolini. Today, 73 years after his death, he is more admired than traditional Italian heroes such as Giuseppes Garibaldi and Mazzini.

CasaPound has also been a participant in an escalating political conflict in which violence both verbal and physical has become commonplace. When you speak to CasaPound militants, theyre quick to say they only commit violence in self-defence, but their definition of self-defence is extremely elastic. Luca Marsella, a top colonel in the movement, once said to 14-year-old schoolchildren who were protesting against a new CasaPound centre: Ill cut your throats like dogs, Ill kill all of you. Another militant was convicted of beating up leftwing activists in Rome in 2011 when they were putting up posters. Another activist, Giovanni Battista Ceniti, was involved in a murder, though as Iannone pointed out he had already been expelled from CasaPound for intellectual laziness. In February last year, in Viterbo, two militants, Jacopo Polidori and Michele Santini, beat up a man who had dared to post an ironic comment about CasaPound on Facebook. A leftwing site has compiled an interactive map of episodes of reported fascist violence across the peninsula and there are so many incidents that you can barely see the boot of Italy.

Then, earlier this month, a man who had previously stood for election with the far-right Northern League, and had ties to CasaPound, went on a two-hour shooting rampage in the town of Macerata. Luca Traini fired his Glock pistol at anyone with black skin. What was shocking wasnt just the bloodshed (he injured six people, but all survived), but that it all seemed unsurprising in the current climate. Trainis inspiration was old-fashioned fascism: he had the Wolfsangel rune (used by both Nazis and Italys Terza Posizione) on his forehead. He gave a Roman salute at the monument to Italys war dead.

But in the aftermath of his shooting, mainstream politicians on the so-called centre-right blamed immigration, not Traini. Berlusconi, who has embraced the far right as he attempts to engineer another election win, spoke of a social bomb created by foreigners. Italy, he said, needs to deport 600,000 illegal immigrants.

On Sunday 7 January this year, CasaPound organised a mass rally in Rome to mark the 40th anniversary of the Acca Larentia killings. Four or five thousand people turned up, many wearing similar clothes: bomber jackets and black beanies, military fatigues or drainpipe jeans. There were 50 men in red CasaPound bibs, the security detail, shepherding the troops. Not everyone was a CasaPound militant, but the other groups all fell in behind Gianluca Iannone and Simone di Stefano. This, it was clear, was their show.

Donald Trumps daughter is the latest big name to have discovered the charms of Italys remote south-east

In Monopoli, a sleepy fishing village in Puglia founded by the ancient tribes of southern Italy, the excitement is palpable. The strong rumour is that Ivanka Trump, the daughter of Donald Trump, is coming to town.

All we need now is to hear that her dad is coming too, joked the towns mayor, Emilio Romani. And if the chattering in the Italian press is to be believed, that prospect may be likelier than he imagines.

It has been suggested that the US president could accompany his 35-year-old daughter to the wedding of a New York couple, which is believed to be taking place at Santo Stefano castle, perched on the edge of the towns beach, towards the end of the month.


Puglia, and the region of Salento in particular, has been a coveted tourist destination for several years. This summer, however, the celebrity quotient has reached new levels. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, and his wife Brigitte are expected to spend their summer break in a region which was once overlooked by the rich and famous in favour of swankier Capri, or Porto Cervo in Sardinia.

Ivanka is already a fan of Puglia, having visited Alberobello a town famed for its cone-shaped trullo houses with her husband, Jared Kushner, and their children in 2015. She has reportedly booked to stay in a masseria, or fortified farmhouse, in the countryside.

But amid the flurry of anticipation, Romani is taking the possible arrival of the Trump entourage in his stride, despite the security obligations he may have to fulfil. Monopoli is used to hosting VIP guests, he said, citing the June nuptials in the towns cathedral of Manuel Neuer, a goalkeeper for Bayern Munich and Germanys national team, and his bride, Nina Weiss. The British pop group Duran Duran also performed at a concert at the castle a few years ago. Whether its only Trumps daughter or both of them, it would be a brilliant thing, Romani said. Everyone has their different opinions about politics, but local people see the value of such a visit; it gives Monopoli some limelight, he said.

Meanwhile, Ostuni, a medieval town located further south, is expected to welcome the actor Tom Hanks, while Madonna is also due to return to the Salento region after holidaying there last summer.

It was very satisfying to have Madonna here last year, but whats even more satisfying is that shes coming back, said Francesco Caizzi, president of the Bari division of Federalberghi, the Italian hotel association.

Ivanka Trump is rumoured to have booked in to Monopoli as a wedding guest. Photograph: Patrick van Katwijk/Getty Images

When people come to Puglia, they fall in love with it, he added. Its a beautiful region, where the people are very welcoming. When these big personalities visit, they are looking to experience simple traditions, whether its seeing old people chatting in a square or pasta being made by hand.

One person who fell for Puglias charms is the Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren, who years ago bought a masseria in the south of Salento, where she grows pomegranates. She fondly describes herself as the contadina salentina, or the Salento peasant woman, and has even got behind a local campaign to save some of the regions centuries-old olive trees, infected by the Xylella fastidiosa bacterium, from destruction.

People are particularly drawn to fortified farmhouses, Caizzi said. Many of them have been turned into hotels. They find silence, something far removed from what they are used to. Celebrities aside, Puglia is also popular among ordinary Italians from the north of the country for its good weather, uncrowded beaches, pristine waters, rich history and mouthwatering food. Its a little difficult to reach, but lots of people want to see it, Caizzi said. We havent had mass tourism like in other places. They come here for beaches, people, food and tranquillity We do have places where there is nightlife, but we are not Ibiza or Formentera.

Another big draw is the regions low prices, especially compared with the Amalfi coast where Ivankas younger half-sister, Tiffany, recently spent a yachting holiday and parts of Sardinia, which has some of the worlds best beaches and has long been a celebrity haven.

Puglia may be steadily attracting some big names, but it has no desire to become overly associated with celebrity culture. Sardinias Costa Smeralda is very identifiable as a place for VIPs, said Caizzi. But we want to be a destination for everyone. People here are not so interested in VIPs; nor do they care to know what is happening in their lives.

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Real estate mogul Thomas Barrack, under investigation in Italy, played a critical role in Trumps 2016 US presidential campaign

A close friend and major fundraiser for Donald Trump is under investigation in Italy for allegedly evading 170m (147m, $190m) in taxes after the sale of a luxury resort on Sardinias Emerald Coast, the beach playground frequented by Gulf Arabs and Russian oligarchs.

Thomas Barrack played a critical role in Trumps 2016 election campaign and inauguration and has been described as one of the presidents key advisers outside the West Wing.

At the heart of allegations against Barrack in Italy are claims that he and associates in his private equity firm, Colony Capital, orchestrated a complicated scheme involving Luxembourg-based companies to shield tens of millions of euros from Italian tax authorities after Colonys 2012 sale of the Costa Smeralda resort to Qatar for 600m ($670m).

Barrack and other executives have not formally been charged with wrongdoing. A spokesman for Colony Capital declined to comment on the allegations against the company and its executives. According to a legal document that was prepared by a prosecutor in Sardinia and obtained by the Guardian, investigators used wiretaps in their inquiry, which is a fairly common practice in Italy.

Last year, Barrack helped to recruit his longtime close friend, the former lobbyist Paul Manafort, who had a history of lobbying on behalf of Russian and Ukrainian interests close to Vladimir Putin, to join Trumps campaign. Manafort served as the campaigns chairman before he resigned. Manafort, who went yachting on the Mediterranean with Barrack after his departure from the campaign, is now a key figure in the FBIs investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Barrack, who saved Michael Jacksons Neverland ranch from foreclosure while the singer was still alive, was the first major business figure to lend Trump his stamp of approval, calling the Republican candidate intrinsically and academically first class and kind, compassionate, empathetic.

A recent profile described the real estate mogul as impeccably fit at 69. His close friend and business partner, the actor Rob Lowe with whom Barrack and others bought Hollywood studio Miramax before selling it in 2016 to a Qatari media group told the LA Times that Barrack used his private plane the way his own children used Uber.

When I get him on the phone, hes as likely to be in Riyadh or Paris as he is to be in LA, Lowe told the newspaper. The fact that Barrack is sitting at the table with Trump should make everybody happy, he said.

In the run-up to the election, few endorsements of Trump seemed as personal as those delivered by Barrack.

Donalds natural alliance is with the little guy, Barrack told Charlie Rose during the Republican National Convention last year. He is a disruptor a man who can step into the middle of the fray and take the heat.

Barrack at the Republican National Convention last year. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Italian investigation into Barracks financial activities in Sardinia is unrelated to Trump and Manafort. But it relates to Barracks dealings with Qatar, and Barrack who speaks Arabic and began his career working for the Saudi royal family is seen as having influence over Trumps Middle East policy.

Shortly before the US election, Barrack called for a radical historic shift in [the US] outreach towards the Arab world, singling out brilliant young leaders in the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia who he claimed represented the regions best hope. Writing in Fortune, he also said that the only solution [to the Syrian war] is one that works with Russia and not against them.

Barracks business ties to the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the sovereign wealth fund, and its 2012 purchase of four luxury hotels and acres of undeveloped land in Sardinia, which were acquired through a subsidiary of QIA, are now under intense scrutiny.

Details of the allegations are complex and involve several entities that are based in Luxembourg, a tax haven, and the US state of Delaware, where many shell companies are incorporated. Deutsche Bank, which also serves as a private bank for Trump and his close family and has been mired in legal troubles in the US, advised Colony on the deal.

The Costa Smeralda, as it is known, was established by the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, in the early 1960s. He wanted to develop the 35-mile patch of northern coast for his close friends. Decades later it became a hotspot known for attracting the worlds richest playboys and their yachts.

A prosecutor in Sardinia, who declined to comment on the case, is examining whether the Los Angeles businessman and his associates purposely sought to load an entity linked to the Sardinian resort with artificial debts in the years before it was sold in order to structure the sale as a tax-free transaction. As part of the alleged scheme, a Colony-linked entity sold bonds to a major hedge fund called TPG Axon.

Details of the alleged tax dodge are contained in a legal document prepared by a prosecutor that outlines the charges that are expected to be filed against Barrack and other Colony Capital executives, among others.

According to the document, a Luxembourg-based unit of TPG Axon, along with various Colony Capital entities, are under investigation for being part of a criminal conspiracy to create a tax scheme that defrauded the Italian treasury.

Under Italian rules, a prosecutor must first formally notify individuals that they are under investigation before charges can be filed, a process that a person familiar with the inquiry said has begun.

A spokesman for TPG Axon said it loaned money to a Colony Capital entity but its role was passive. The allegation as made is completely without merit, the TPG Axon spokesman said.

Barrack is not the only individual named in the legal document. The alleged conspiracy, which also involved alleged public corruption, names 23 individuals, including an Italian senator for Forza Italia, Franco Carraro, and Aleksandra Dubrova, Barracks Russian-born associate who was once listed on Colonys website as a vice-president in charge of managing the companys European investments.

A lawyer for Carraro declined to comment.

A lawyer for Dubrova, who resides in Rome, criticised the investigation, which he said had involved wiretaps, seizures and searches and was very complicated.

The investigation is full of problems, full of issues, full of defects. For what it concerns my client, the Russian lady Aleksandra Dubrova, she is absolutely innocent and not involved in any of the allegations moved against her, the lawyer Emilio Riccio, said. He said her position at Colony had changed.

Six of the executives named in the legal document who are connected to Colony Capital though not Barrack himself are being represented by Paola Severino, a Rome-based lawyer and former justice minister. Severino declined to comment.

The Qatar Investment Authority did not respond to several requests for comment.

Last year, Italian media outlets reported that Barracks company paid 22m ($25m) to settle legal questions over the tax treatment of the property sale to Qatar. But that did not end the investigation into the transaction. A spokesman for Colony said the firm could not verify whether it made the payment.

Colony Capital is merging with two other companies to create a new company, Colony NorthStar, which will have more than $58bn (52bn) in assets under management.

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Italian Emma Morano, whose life spans three centuries, says her secret to longevity is not eating much because I have no teeth

Emma Morano, the last known person alive who was born in the 19th century, is preparing to celebrate her 117th birthday.

Born on 29 November 1899, she is the worlds oldest living person and the secret to her longevity appears to lie in eschewing usual medical wisdom.

I eat two eggs a day and thats it. And cookies. But I do not eat much because I have no teeth, Morano said last month at her home in Verbania, a town in northern Italy on Lake Maggiore.

On a marble-topped chest of drawers stands proudly the Guinness World Records certificate declaring her to be the oldest person alive.

The eldest of eight children who has outlived all her younger siblings, Morano knows that people are curious about her.

People come. I dont invite anybody but they come. From America, Switzerland, Austria, Turin, Milan They come from all over to see me, she said.

But shes not sure she will eat some birthday cake during the celebration on Tuesday, saying the last time I ate a little, but then I did not feel good.

Birthdays aside, Morano is a solitary person. Having left her violent husband in 1938 shortly after the death in infancy of her only son, she lived alone, working in a factory producing jute sacks to support herself.

She clung to her independence, only taking on a full-time carer last year, though she has not left her small two-room apartment for 20 years, and has been bed-bound for the last year.

While her mind is alert, she is very deaf, speaks with difficulty and does not see well enough to watch television, spending her time instead either sleeping or snacking.

Among the plans surrounding the birthday, she is expected to receive some relatives and journalists as well as Verbania mayor Silvia Marchionini.

And in the town at the local theatre there will be a performance of music over three centuries in Moranos honour and also a preview of a romanticised biography called The Woman Who Saw Three Centuries.

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Leader of Catholic church stresses need to turn away from views that exclude the needy during service at St Peters Basilica

Homeless people received VIP seats to a special mass in St Peters Basilica on Sunday, where Pope Francis stressed the need to avoid exclusionary views that reject those in need.

Along with cardinals and other prelates dressed in impeccably pressed bright green vestments, homeless people sat near the ornate central altar.

The pope elaborated on his recent comments encouraging policies of social inclusion, at a time when the popularity of politicians who advocate exclusionary policies toward migrants of other religions, races or ethnicities is rising in several developed countries.

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Casa di Giulietta in Verona, which belonged to family said to have inspired Shakespeare, made available for civil partnerships

The balcony in Verona where Romeo is said to have wooed Juliet has been made available to same-sex couples seeking civil unions, months after Italy became the last major European country to legalise the partnerships.

Veronas city council announced this week that all municipal venues traditionally available to heterosexual couples getting married could also be used by same-sex couples entering civil unions. These include the Casa di Giulietta, a renovated medieval residence that once belonged to a noble family, the del Cappellos, who are believed by locals to have inspired Shakespeares fictional Capulets.

The council said that Verona, like every other municipality, was awaiting instructions from authorities on how the new unions needed to be recorded, but that the city was already making preparations to host the celebrations. About 20 requests have so far been received.

Its an economic issue, sure, to have these ceremonies here, but it is also significant because the house of Juliet is a symbol and the city of Verona is symbolic, too, said Flavio Tosi, the citys mayor.

Although the star-crossed lovers own union was short-lived, couples might nevertheless find Casa di Giulietta attractive. According to the venues website, Juliets house a destination of choice for hundreds of visitors around the world who want to pay tribute to love was restored in the 20th century. It includes furniture from the 16th and 17th centuries, frescoes that tell the story of the doomed teenage romance, Renaissance-era ceramics, and a carving of the del Cappello coat of arms in a courtyard arch.

In an old promotion still visible on the website, a Valentines Day wedding in Juliets house, including music and a toast of love, cost 300 for local residents and 600 for others.

Authorities in Rome announced this week that civil unions could begin to take place during the Ferragosto holiday in mid-August, with the chief sponsor of the legislation, Democratic party senator Monica Cirinn, announcing that there would be rainbow-coloured confetti for all.

It was also made clear this week that mayors opposed to the unions would not legally be able to refuse to carry them out, despite pronouncements by some that their refusal would be a matter of conscientious objection.

Alongside Verona, the beaches of Viareggio and the Baths of Caracalla in Rome, Venice was also likely to be a popular choice, La Repubblica noted despite the citys mayor refusing to allow a gay pride march.

Although the passage of the civil union legislation was a major achievement for prime minister Matteo Renzi, who overcame resistance from Italian bishops and conservative lawmakers, the final law was a watered-down version of the original. Marriage is still off-limits for same-sex couples and an effort to extend certain parental rights to LGBT couples was quashed after last-minute manoeuvring by lawmakers in the populist Five Star Movement.

Italys decades-long resistance to gay rights was condemned by the European court of human rights last year, which ruled that the country was violating human rights by not offering adequate legal protection and recognition to same-sex couples. The ruling is believed to have helped the passage of the civil union legislation.

Some mayors including Romes former mayor, Ignazio Marino had sought to take matters into their own hands in the years before the legislation was passed, by staging their own ceremonies for same-sex couples. But those unions were invalidated by the courts, which called them symbolic but not legally binding.

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