Two men set themselves on fire

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Italy was in shock on Thursday after an Italian builder on trial for tax evasion and a Moroccan man who had not been paid for months set themselves on fire in separate incidents.

Giuseppe C, 58, wrote suicide notes to the tax agency, friends and his wife before setting himself alight in Bologna on Wednesday. He was saved by a traffic warden and is in a critical condition in a severe burns unit.

“It's a terrible sign of desperation, a single case of distress which sums up a moment of great difficulty,” former premier Romano Prodi said Thursday.

“I hope he survives, but he is in a very serious state,” he said.

The Moroccan, a 27-year-old resident of Verona who is also a builder, set his arms and head on fire in a street on Thursday in an apparent copycat protest after yelling that he had not be paid for four months, police said.

“He shouted out that he hadn't been paid for four months and poured petrol over himself before setting himself alight. Police raced to put the flames out and he has been taken to hospital,” Pasquale d'Antonio from Verona police said.

Giuseppe C. had been due to attend the first hearing of a court case against him for 104 000 euros ($138 000) in unpaid tax and fines dating from 2007.

“On fire for tax: the taxman is killing the country,” read the front page headline of the right-wing Il Giornale daily, while the Repubblica wrote of “the tragedy of a handyman strangled by the economic crisis.”

Prime Minister Mario Monti's government has launched a wide-ranging crackdown on tax evasion as Italy struggles under a vast debt mountain.

The builder had set himself alight in his Fiat Punto in the car park of a former tax agency office. In his note, extracts of which were published in the Corriere della Sera newspaper, he told the agency “I've always paid my taxes.”

He asked for forgiveness and told them to “leave my wife alone.”

His wife Tiziana told the Corriere that she “had never seen any sign of money problems. He didn't want to trouble me with it.”

In his letter to her, Giuseppe C. had written: “I wanted to say goodbye, but you were sleeping so peacefully. Today is a terrible day.” - AFP

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