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But U.S. Tourism Down 85% This Summer : Airports Now Safe, Italy’s Envoy Says

Times Staff Writer

Security at Italy’s airports has been beefed up and they are now as safe as America’s, Italy’s ambassador to Washington, Rinaldo Petrignani, said Thursday.

“Rome is now one of the safest airports in the world,” the envoy asserted in an interview.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Jun. 22, 1986 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday June 22, 1986 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Foreign Desk 2 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
The Italian Consulate in Los Angeles said that it erred on figures it furnished to The Times that were published Friday on the decline in bookings in Italy by American tourists this summer. The correct figures for the approximate decline in such bookings, the consulate said, are 25% to 35%.

Petrignani said he hopes that terrorist threats against Italian magistrates involved in the current trial in Genoa of the hijackers of the cruise ship Achille Lauro will not further deter Americans from visiting Italy.

He said Italian bookings by American tourists this summer have dropped 85% to 95%. The drop, which has, to varying degrees, affected other countries in Western Europe, has been attributed to fear of terrorism and the declining strength of the dollar.

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Petrignani was in Los Angeles to present his views on how and why European and American perceptions of terrorism differ in a speech Wednesday night to the World Affairs Council.

In the interview Thursday with The Times, he repeated that despite the risk to its magistrates, the Italian government is committed to prosecuting the perpetrators of last October’s Achille Lauro hijacking and the “heinous” murder of a wheelchair-bound American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, 69.

“Many expressed doubt that we would ever come to this point,” Petrignani said, “but we consider it our duty. Occasional disagreements on methods (of combatting terrorism) do not change the fact that Europe is just as determined as America to combat terrorism.”

Relations between Italy and the United States were tense when Italy allowed Abul Abbas, the reputed mastermind of the Achille Lauro hijacking, to leave the country last October, saying there was not enough evidence to hold him.

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Abbas, along with four of the five hijackers now present in the courtroom in Genoa, was leaving Cairo on an Egyptian plane when U.S. warplanes forced it to land in Sicily. But while it held the other four, Italy freed Abbas, only later indicting him for his alleged role in the hijacking. He is among 10 defendants being tried in absentia.

Petrignani said that the other reason Abbas was not held was to preserve Italy’s relations with Egypt.

“We would have had to storm the plane, and that would have been an act of war against Egypt,” he said. "(Egyptian) President Hosni Mubarak was facing strong and dangerous opposition--a wave of anti-American, anti-Western sentiment--and we thought it was best not to bring relations to the breaking point.”

Petrignani said that Italy has confronted another issue that had created some coolness between it and the United States--how to deal with Libya, which the Reagan Administration has accused of sponsoring terrorism.

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Since the Tokyo economic summit meeting last month, when Japan and the major Western powers agreed on measures to combat terrorism, Italy has sharply reduced its ties to Libya, he noted.

Relations between the United States and Italy have been restored to their former level of “full friendship and cordiality,” he added.


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