By ARIEL DAVID, Associated Press Writer
Fri Nov 2, 6:54 PM ET

ROME - Dozens of immigrants were fleeing their shantytown homes on the outskirts of Rome Friday after a string of attacks blamed on foreigners prompted authorities to crack down on camps inhabited mainly by Gypsies.

Carrying their belongings in bundles and plastic bags, and sometimes atop bicycles, residents left a camp on the northern edges of the capital where police arrested a Romanian accused in the savage beating of an Italian woman near the camp who died Thursday after two days in a coma.

The victim, the 47-year-old wife an Italian navy commander, was attacked as she walked along a road after dark Tuesday toward the barracks where she lives, police said. She was beaten, dragged through mud and left bloody and half naked in a ditch, police said.

Outside the camp in the Tor di Quinto neighborhood, police and bulldozers waited for the order to raze the illegal settlement while most residents abandoned the area, fearing they would be rounded up and expelled.

The attack on the woman prompted Premier Romano Prodi's center-left Cabinet to give authorities the power to expel European Union citizens "for reasons of public safety."

Prodi in a condolence message to the husband on Friday said the killing had "had wounded the soul of all Italians."

The suspect in the murder case, a Romanian in his 20s identified as Nicolae Mailat, lived in the Tor di Quinto camp, one of several sprawling settlements where thousands of residents — some legal, some not — live in shacks.

Many are from Romania, which joined the European Union earlier this year, or the former Yugoslavia.

Romania's premier told Italian state TV Thursday night that he backed Rome's crackdown. Violent Romanians "will be sent back home without hesitation," Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu said in the TV interview.

Authorities in recent months have blamed Romanians for a series of violent crimes in Rome.

Although the free movement of EU citizens within the 27 member nations is a cornerstone of EU policy, countries still have the right to keep dangerous people out.