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Police question suspects in Venice bell-tower takeover

May 10, 1997

VENICE, Italy (AP) _ Police questioned nine suspects Saturday in the bizarre takeover of the famed bell tower at St. Mark’s Square, including one man they believe is the ideologue of the separatist movement responsible.

Eight separatists took over the tower Friday, proclaiming a ``republic″ and vowing to occupy the tower until their ``ambassador″ showed up.

Police got there first, ending the takeover without injury in a lightening-fast raid. By Saturday, a ninth man was in custody, accused of being the no-show envoy.

He and the others were questioned Saturday. The ANSA news agency said one of the men, who was hospitalized with an unspecified ailment, claimed he couldn’t remember anything.

The ninth man, Giuseppe Segato, refused to answer any questions, it said.

``I’m the ambassador of the Most Serene Republic of Veneto,″ the 43-year-old Segato declared when he was arrested, the ANSA news agency reported. ``That’s what they call me.″

It said Segato has devoted his life to the study of the former Venetian republic, one of Europe’s major economic powers for nearly 1,000 years.

Like the separatists’ phantom city-state, the real one styled itself ``The Most Serene Republic.″

Police suspect Segato is the ideologue of the shadowy separatist movement behind Friday’s takeover of the bell tower, one of Italy’s most famous landmarks, and recent pirate TV broadcasts.

Segato, whose name was found in the pocket of one of the eight suspects, mythologized the Venetian republic in several books he published himself and sold door to door.

Investigators on Saturday were also going over the homemade armored car used in the tower takeover. One official called the makeshift armored vehicle ``do-it-yourself on a grand scale.″

Authorities are also trying to establish a link between the suspects and pirate TV transmissions that have been interrupting state TV in the area for months.

The political fallout from the takeover continued to pour down Saturday.

The autonomy-minded Northern League, which disavows any link to the takeover, canceled a demonstration it planned in St. Mark’s Square on Monday to mark the 200th anniversary of the Venetian republic’s end.

The League said it wanted to ``avoid all kinds of speculation and manipulation on the part of the central regime and its zealous followers.″

Last year in Venice, the League’s flamboyant leader symbolically declared an independent northern republic called ``Padania.″ The move alienated many supporters from the League, which began as an anti-tax movement.

Since the takeover, virtually every major politician in Italy has denounced the League for creating the kind of climate in which separatist sentiments can fester _ and perhaps turn violent.

The bell tower takeover was bloodless. The men, who had a single submachine gun, were quickly overpowered by police after a more than seven-hour occupation of the 9th-century landmark.

Perhaps the most serious charge they face is hijacking. The men commandeered a public ferry to take them to St. Mark’s Square.

All the suspects come from the area around Venice, the Veneto, rather than the city itself.

They have been identified as Flavio Contin, 55, and his nephew Cristian, 23; Gilberto Buson, 46; Fausto Faccia, 30; Moreno Menini, 20; Luca Peroni, 27; Andrea Viviani, 26; and Antonio Barison, 41, who is hospitalized;

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