Migrants blamed the attacks on racism and groups of protesters stoned police, attacked residents and smashed shop windows and cars.

Police said on Friday that at least 37 people had been wounded, including five migrants, 14 residents and 18 police officers. Three migrants were seriously hurt when they were beaten with metal rods, police and hospital officials said.

Luigi Varratta, the prefect of Reggio Calabria, said that police reinforcements were being stationed at intersections to help keep order.

Opposition politicians accused Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, and his conservative coalition of failing to enforce a crackdown requiring immigrants to have a job and proper housing to be granted residence permits.

The migrants say were earning illegally low wages - as little $30 for a 12-hour day picking citrus fruit and other crops.

Despite chronically high unemployment rates in Italy's underdeveloped south many residents don't want to do the backbreaking seasonal farm work.