Unveiling a series of emergency, Silvio Berlusconi said the Naples rubbish crisis (photo, from BBC) will be treated as a natural disaster.
Italy’s prime minister said landfill sites will be classified as of strategic national interest, guarded by soldiers.
Piles of rotting waste, which have littered the streets for months, have been burnt buy angry residents.
Chronic mismanagement by city officials and the involvement of the Naples mafia, the Camorra, has been blamed for the region’s rubbish crisis.
“[The sites] will become virtually military zones and will be guarded by soldiers to ensure that they can be cleared” said Mr Berlusconi at a press conference in the southern city.
“They will become areas of strategic national interest. Whoever tries to stop the management and disposal of the waste will face a prison sentence.”
He also announced that the head of the country’s civil protection force, which intervenes during natural disasters, would be charged with co-ordinating the rubbish clearance.
“We are handing over the emergency to the civil protection force – just as though we had a natural disaster” Mr Berlusconi said.
He added that new rubbish dump sites would be named across the Campania region, which is blighted by some 45,000 tonnes of uncollected and dumped waste.
And several rubbish incinerators would be commissioned to deal with the waste, even though local residents have been opposed to their creation.
The European Union announced, in early May, that it was taking the Italian government to court over its mishandling of the region’s waste management.
Il cavaliere said he would return to Naples regularly, to monitor the crisis.
“The state is present in Naples” he said. “It will act – not tomorrow – but straight away.”
With some 1,000 police officers patrolling the streets, the security was high in Naples, for the cabinet meeting.
Protesters waving banners and chanting slogans clogged up the city’s historic centre.
Since December, municipal rubbish collections were stopped in Naples, and the city’s landfill sites are overflowing.
On Wednesday, a study released by the Eurispes research institute, put the region on top of a list of southern Italian provinces blighted by organised crime.
Locals are divided. Some of them are sceptical about the media magnate’s decision to hold his first full new cabinet meeting in Naples.
“Our problems can’t be fixed from one day to the next. We’ve been dealing with this rubbish for the last 15 years and I don’t expect anything to change in any real way soon,” architect Raffaele Rusciani told Reuters.
After the cabinet meeting, the government also announced tough new measures against illegal immigrants.
Roberto Maroni (photo), Interior Minister, said that entering the country illegally would be punishable by up to four years in prison.
The measures have to be approved by the parliament, where the prime minister has a solid majority in both houses.
Mr Maroni also announced measures to deal with an influx of Roma, or Gypsy, people. They are often perceived by the Italian public, rightly or wrongly, as responsible for an increase in violent crime, said BBC’s David Willey, in Rome.
Roberto Maroni also outlined measures to make expelling illegal immigrants easier, and to restrict family members from joining those already living in the country.
Mr Maroni sought to calm fears from the European Union over a rash of arrets of suspected illegal immigrants in Italy last week.
“As far as citizens of the European Community are concerned, we fully and completely respect the Commission’s directives” he said.