Vandals burn Milan Duomo palm trees as row turns racist

A cluster of palm trees next to Milan's Duomo was set ablaze early Sunday as a dispute over the use of non-native plants at one of Italy's most celebrated cathedrals took on a racist tinge.

Vandals burn Milan Duomo palm trees as row turns racist
The freshly planted trees, pictured before the vandalism. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Three of the 42 trees went up in flames in the overnight attack by vandals, though only one suffered extensive damage to its trunk.

The incident followed protests on Saturday organized by the anti-immigrant Northern League party and CasaPound, a radical rightwing movement. Demonstrators waving the Italian flag stood in front of a large banner alleging the “Africanization” of the historic piazza.

The palms, some of them five metres (17 feet) tall, appeared on Thursday in the shadow of the 14th century Gothic cathedral.

Critics complained not only that the plants were non-native, but that the project – which will also involve banana trees – had been sponsored by Starbucks.

The US coffee giant is preparing to take on the Italian market, a frontal assault on the nation's cherished network of mostly independent bars and cafes.

READ MORE: Get ready – up to 300 Starbucks stores are coming to Italy

Palms are not native to Italy but are widespread in more temperate areas of the country, including Rome and the Riviera, as well as in Sicily, where their juxtaposition with the austere architecture of Norman cathedrals is a favourite holiday snap for visitors.

Some palms in Italy are older than the country itself, having been brought to the peninsula by novelty-seeking aristocrats in the 18th and 19th centuries.

They were later championed by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini as symbols of Italy's short-lived African empire.

The ones in Milan are a cold-resistant variety that are expected to survive the northern city's chilly winters.

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Romanian billionaire and seven others die in Milan plane crash

A light aircraft piloted by Romanian billionaire Dan Petrescu crashed into an empty office building near Milan on Sunday, killing him, his wife and son, and all five others aboard.

Police and rescue teams outside the office building where a small plane crashed in the Milan suburb of San Donato.
Police and rescue teams outside the office building where a small plane crashed in the Milan suburb of San Donato on October 3rd. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The single-engine Pilatus PC-12 had taken off from Milan’s Linate airport shortly after 1pm headed for Olbia in the north of the Italian island of Sardinia.

It crashed just a few minutes later into a building in San Donato Milanese, a town southeast of Milan, according to aviation agency ANSV, which has opened an investigation.

Witnesses said the plane was already in flames before it crashed into an office building undergoing renovations.

Petrescu’s 65-year-old wife, who also had French nationality, and their son Dan Stefano, 30, were killed.

Italian media identified the other passengers as entrepreneur Filippo Nascimbene, a 33-year-old from Lombardy, with his wife, young son and mother-in-law, who have French nationality.

Petrescu, 68, was one of Romania’s richest men. He headed a major construction firm and owned a string of hypermarkets and malls. He also held Germany nationality, the Corriere della Sera newspaper reported.

Flames engulfed the two-storey building, next to the yellow line subway terminus.

“The impact was devastating,” Carlo Cardinali, of the Milan fire brigade, told news agency Ansa.

Deputy prosecutor Tiziana Siciliano was quoted by Corriere as saying that the plane’s black box had been recovered.