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Italy delays regional plan to limit diesel cars after protests

First new cabinet meeting at Chigi Palace, in Rome

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's government postponed on Thursday a plan by one of the country's most polluted regions to ban old diesel vehicles from towns and cities during working hours, an initiative that had sparked protests by motorists.

The announcement of the one-year delay to the plan in the northwestern Piedmont region is the latest example of the right-wing government's cautious approach on environmental regulation.

At the European Union level, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's administration has led opposition to proposed Euro 7 legislation to further restrict car emissions.

Partly to avoid EU censure over pollution, Piedmont was planning a daytime ban on diesel vehicles up to the Euro 5 emission class during the working week, in all municipalities with more than 10,000 residents, starting Sept. 15 until April 15 next year.

But Environment Minister Gilberto Pichetto Fratin said the measure would now only be allowed to enter into force from Oct. 1, 2024, adding that it would be applied only to places with more than 30,000 inhabitants.

"The government has intervened (...) to avert a social and economic crisis of families and businesses without neglecting the importance of the commitments made with the European Union," Pichetto Fratin said in a statement.

According to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, the restrictions would have affected more than 600,000 vehicles, including about 140,000 Euro 5 diesels as well as other older more polluting vehicles, including petrol ones.

Piedmont is part of the Po Valley, one of the most polluted areas in Europe.

Its regional government, controlled by the same parties that make up Meloni's coalition, said it had been under pressure to take action after the EU Court of Justice in 2020 found Italy in breach of the bloc's clean air regulations.

Pichetto Fratin said the government had ordered a review and update of regional anti-pollution plans, and that while this was pending, planned restrictions on Euro 5 diesels were temporarily suspended. He added that this was consistent with EU rules.

(Reporting by Giulio Piovaccari; Additional reporting by Federico Maccioni; Editing by Alvise Armellini and Helen Popper)