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article imageItalian police fear trouble at opening of Milan Expo

By Amelie Herenstein with Mathilde Auvillain in Rome (AFP)     Apr 29, 2015 in World

Italian police are bracing for potential trouble at the opening of Expo 2015 after carrying out pre-emptive raids Wednesday on radical groups suspected of planning to disrupt its launch.

Organisers of the showcase six-month event are also fretting over whether the giant site on the edge of Milan will be completely ready on time, with a select group of visitors reporting that it still resembled a building site less than 48 hours before its grand opening.

The first world fair since Shanghai in 2010 is to be inaugurated on Friday with organisers predicting 20 million visitors between then and October 31 and a ten-billion-euro boost to the Italian economy.

Journalists on a preview visit to the French pavilion reported that the site remained a hive of activity on Wednesday with a large amount of interior decoration work still to be completed and the place abuzz with workers, diggers and boon lifts.

Police conduct inspections next to the French and Israeli Pavillion areas for the Expo 2015 in milan...
Police conduct inspections next to the French and Israeli Pavillion areas for the Expo 2015 in milan, on April 29, 2015
Olivier Morin, AFP

There also appeared to be huge amounts of work to be done on the outside of the site, sign-posting was virtually non-existent, many pathways had not been covered and diggers and bulldozers were still clearing ground around the Rho-fiera metro stop that will be the main access point for the public.

All lorries and other heavy equipment were due to be off site by Wednesday evening at the latest.

"I asked for two months, I got three weeks. We really cut it fine but we will be ready," said French pavilion designer Adeline Rispal.

Organisers of the "No Expo" movement are planning a major student rally on Thursday and a May Day march on Friday that is predicted to draw 30,000 people. Further events are scheduled over the weekend.

- Joyously enraged -

Organisers of the protests insist they intend them to be peaceful but the Italian media has been awash with reports of anti-capitalist collective Blockupy and other groups with a record of violent action planning to take part.

Workers prepare the Poland Pavillion for the Expo 2015 which will run from May 1 - October 31 and wi...
Workers prepare the Poland Pavillion for the Expo 2015 which will run from May 1 - October 31 and will focus on food security, sustainable agricultural practices, nutrition and battling hunger
Olivier Morin, AFP

Milan police carried out raids on premises associated with several radical groups on Tuesday and Wednesday, seizing fireworks, baseball bats, gas masks and material which could be used to make Molotov cocktails.

A German national was arrested for possession of explosive material and 26 other people, including 16 French nationals, are being investigated, AGI news agency reported.

Luca, a "No Expo" organiser, said the media was being needlessly alarmist. "I think the mood of the protests will be joyously enraged, if I can put it like that," he told AFP.

"They are trying to create a climate of fear because they are worried there will be more people on the streets that going through the gates of the Expo."

Opponents of the Expo say it is being staged on the backs of thousands of young people working for free or for minimal wages on a work experience basis.

Workers prepare the French Pavillion for the Expo 2015 in Milan  on April 29  2015
Workers prepare the French Pavillion for the Expo 2015 in Milan, on April 29, 2015
Olivier Morin, AFP

They are angry that public money has been diverted to the project at a time of economic hardship, that millions have been syphoned off through corruption, and that corporations such as McDonalds and Nestle are involved in an event with the challenge of feeding the planet as its central theme.

Milan mayor Giuliano Pisapia has asked for security reinforcements to help police the demonstrations amid predictions that trouble is virtually inevitable.

"Milan is waking up in a climate of tension and bad omens it has not witnessed in 30 years," La Repubblica commented in a reference to the late 1970s and early 1980s when Italy was haunted by the spectre of homegrown terrorism.

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