Two die, 561 hurt in Italian New Year celebrations

ROME Sun Jan 1, 2012 2:53pm GMT

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ROME (Reuters) - Two men were killed and 561 other people were wounded as Italians celebrated the New Year with massive displays of illegal and homemade fireworks, the Interior Ministry said on Sunday.

Of those wounded, 76 were children under the age of 12.

Marking New Year's Eve festivities with fireworks is a deadly Italian tradition. Up to 2,000 cities, towns and villages had banned them this year, but police said they still seized thousands of tonnes of fireworks, including more than a thousand rocket launchers.

The most serious incident took place in Rome when a 31-year-old man lit a large firecracker which exploded in his apartment before he could throw it out the window. The explosion set off a bigger blast of the remaining fireworks that killed him and wounded several others in the apartment, including three children, police said.

"I was in bed, and the bed jumped. It was like an earthquake," said one neighbour, according to Ansa news agency.

A 39-year-old man was killed by a stray bullet in Naples as someone fired a weapon randomly in celebration. The victim himself was setting off a barrage of fireworks in front of his restaurant.

(Reporting By Steve Scherer; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)

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