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Rome's mangy Christmas tree to be carved up into souvenirs

By NICOLE WINFIELD
Associated Press

ROME (AP) - Rome's pathetic Christmas tree, so droopy and dried out that residents nicknamed it "The Mangy One," will be carved up and turned into souvenirs and a lactation hut for mothers and babies, city officials said Tuesday.

In giving the downtrodden tree a new life, Rome's cabinet moved to close an embarrassing chapter in which the holiday decoration came to symbolize the city's degradation and dysfunction under its 5-Star mayor, Virginia Raggi, and the years of neglect and corruption before her.

Raggi insisted Tuesday that the tree ended up capturing the hearts of Romans and visitors alike, and that its future life would show Rome as a model of recycling.

But not even its removal went as planned. Workers on cranes started taking down ornaments Tuesday, only to put them back after getting word that a formal farewell ceremony was planned for Thursday.

The 21-meter- (70-foot-) high tree, which was lit on Dec. 8, earned its moniker soon after it was hoisted up in the middle of Rome's main square, Piazza Venezia, and started dropping its needles at an unusually fast clip.

Raggi ordered an investigation into why the needles fell off so soon, given the tree was alive when it was selected and cost 48,000 euros ($57,000) to transport from South Tyrol, an Italian Alpine region, to the capital.

The "Spelacchio" saga was the latest headache for Raggi, who was recently indicted on charges she lied about a City Hall appointment. The trial is due to start in June. Raggi says she's innocent.

The case involves the appointment of Renato Marra as director of Rome's tourism department. Marra's brother, Raffaele Marra, headed City Hall's personnel office until his arrest in an unrelated corruption probe.

Raggi has said she alone decided on the tourism appointment, but text messages indicate Raffaele Marra had a hand in both it and the resulting salary increase for his brother.

On Tuesday, Raffaele Marra was indicted in the case for alleged abuse of office, Italy's ANSA news agency said.

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