Roundup: Millions of Italians, foreign tourists on road amid tight security for holidays

Source: Xinhua| 2018-12-23 01:55:54|Editor: yan
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ROME, Dec. 22 (Xinhua) -- Millions of Italians and foreign holidaymakers got on the road Saturday as authorities ramped up security measures at transportation hubs and tourist attractions ahead of the busy Christmas and New Year festivities.

On Saturday, police at Rome's Fiumicino International Airport nabbed a man who was trying to smuggle 4.5 kilos of cocaine wrapped up as Christmas presents, Sky TG24 private broadcaster reported.

Increased pre-holiday vigilance at airports has so far led to the arrest of 15 drug traffickers with the seizure of 40 kilos of cocaine and seven kilos of heroin worth nine million euros overall, according to Sky TG24.

At least 13.5 million Italians are set to travel over the holidays this year, Federturismo tourism industry association said in a statement. Of these, 75 percent plan to visit family in Italy at Christmas, taking off for longer trips beginning on Boxing Day (Dec. 26), Federturismo said.

The most popular destinations within Italy are the "cities of art" -- Florence, Rome, and Venice -- as well as Alpine ski resorts such as Courmayeur near France and various locations in the northern Trentino Alto Adige region bordering Austria and Switzerland.

Many Italians will ring in the New Year in European capitals such as London and Paris, plus exotic beach destinations such as the Mauritius islands, the Maldives, Kenya, and the Red Sea, according to Federturismo.

Spending will total an average of 500 euros per capita for a four-night trip within Italy and 1,500 euros per capita for holiday packages abroad, according to the tourism industry association.

Meanwhile, six million foreign tourists are expected to visit Italy over Christmas and New Year with arrivals from the U.S., France, Germany, Russia, Spain, and the UK.

Earlier this week, the Interior Ministry announced stiffer security measures in the wake of the Dec. 11 terrorist attack on a Christmas market in the French city of Strasbourg in which five people, including an Italian journalist, were killed.

"Higher security...during Christmas holidays: over 1,600 police officers carry out extra checks in 10 large (train) stations: 8,681 people checked, 10 arrested, 39 placed under investigation," State Police tweeted Saturday, adding "We're also checking luggage with canine units and metal detectors."

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has said 30,000 police officers will be on board the nation's trains through Jan. 6 -- the official end of the holidays -- and there will be increased patrols at train stations, airports, tourist attractions, and places of worship.

Another security concern is the use of pepper spray at New Year celebrations in the wake of a deadly nightclub stampede earlier this month, in which six people were crushed to death after someone used the irritant spray inside the crowded venue.

Mayors from north to south have banned pepper spray from New Year celebrations, which in many cities feature open-air concerts that attract big crowds, La Repubblica newspaper reported Saturday.

Also on the list of potential security risks is the use of illegal firecrackers sold on the black market. In Naples, police arrested three people found in possession of almost 430,000 illegal firecrackers, many of them home-made and "having the characteristics of actual bombs", local newspaper Il Mattino di Napoli said Saturday.

Christmas also means every city, town and village sets up its own decorated tree.

This year, the most unusual tree was unveiled on Dec. 19 in the Medieval hilltop village of Trivento in the southern Molise region. Six meters tall and with a diameter of 3.5 meters, it is entirely made up of 1,300 colorful knitted wool squares, handmade by a group of women led by embroidery artist Lucia Santorelli, ANSA news agency reported.

Santorelli and her knitters first made headlines and conquered the internet in Italy last summer, when they displayed a 640-meter rug made up of knit sections along Trivento's famous central stairway, which has 365 steps. (1 euro is currently 1.14 U.S. dollars)