TERZIGNO, Italy : Clashes between police and protesters against plans for a huge garbage tip near an Italian town left five officers hurt, police said Saturday, as the EU warned of legal action if Rome failed to resolve its waste problem.

Two policemen and three carabinieri suffered slight injuries in a face-off lasting several hours with residents of Terzigno near Naples hurling stones and fireworks at them, local authorities said.

The police responded with tear gas and baton charges in the latest incidents in a week of protests that have seen local people block all access to the town's existing waste dump.

The blockade has caused 2,400 tonnes of rubbish to pile up in the streets of Naples, the official responsible for the city's hygiene, Paolo Giacomelli, said.

He appealed to citizens not to burn the waste, after dozens of piles and containers of garbage were set ablaze on Friday night, saying it increased the environmental and health hazard.

The new dump, the biggest in Europe, would be 800 metres from the edge of Terzigno in the Vesuvius National Park, some 135 square kilometres of outstanding natural beauty in the Bay of Naples.

The protected area of rare wildlife and plants includes Mount Vesuvius, best known for its volcanic eruption in 79 AD that destroyed the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The long-running waste issue has been blamed on a lack of local incinerators, and landfill sites controlled by the local mafia, the Camorra, some of which were used for the illegal dumping of toxic waste.

Meanwhile, a European commissioner said Italy faces legal action by the European Union and massive fines for failing to improve waste management around Naples.

"I am worried by what has been happening in Campania in recent days," said Janez Potocnik, the commissioner for the environment, referring to the region around Italy's third biggest city.

"Today's situation leads us to believe that measures taken by Italian authorities since 2007 are insufficient," he said in a statement.

He added that the European Commission, the EU's executive, was considering sending a team to the area to assess whether Italy remained in breach of European legislation requiring waste disposal installations that protect human health and the environment.

Europe's highest court in March found Italy had violated EU legislation for its failure to clean up the Naples region garbage crisis declared by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi 18 months earlier.

Berlusconi had made finding a solution to the 2007 crisis a key plank of his winning election campaign.

On Friday he promised compensation for Terzigno, but local mayors rejected the offer, saying they will defend their territory at any cost.

"What has been happening in the last days shows that the Italian authorities have not yet done what is needed," the Brussels commissioner said.

The proof was that the Campania region still had no waste management and that the region's sole incinerator, in Acerra, "is not functioning properly and at full capacity," he added.

Italy was neither disposing of old waste nor able to manage new daily garbage production.

"The present situation has not changed compared to when the Commission decided to block EU funding," the statement said.

Pope Benedict XVI also weighed in with a Vatican message to local Bishop Beniamino Depalma saying that the pontiff was following closely "the alarming news from Terzigno" and hoping for "a fair and shared solution to the problem with the participation and goodwill of all."

Channel NewsAsia - Police hurt in clashes over Italy garbage dump - channelnewsasia.com