Furore over Berlusconi's defence of Mussolini

Ex-premier said Fascist dictator 'did well in many ways'

Furore over Berlusconi's defence of Mussolini

Rome, January 28 - Controversy continued to rage on Monday after ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi defended Benito Mussolini after attending a ceremony in Milan to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on Sunday. Berlusconi, who is leading the centre right's campaign for next month's Italian election, said the 1938 anti-Jewish racial laws were the "worst fault" of the Fascist dictator, adding that in many other ways he "did well". The three-time Italian premier also said Mussolini had no alternative but to enter the Second World War because otherwise Italy would have come into conflict with Germany, an assertion many historians dispute. Berlusconi also dozed during Sunday's ceremony. "If what Berlusconi said was a bad joke, it was a very bad joke," said outgoing Premier Mario Monti, who also attended the ceremony and is standing in the election at the head of a centrist reform ticket. Italy's Jewish community expressed anger and some suggested the comments were an attempt by Berlusconi to win support from extreme rightwingers. "It's no use swearing your friendship to the Jewish people and to Israel (as Berlusconi has) if you then minimise Mussolini's responsibility to please alliances with wings that are the political heirs of Fascism," Riccardo Pacifici, the leader of Rome's Jewish community, said in an interview published in daily newspaper La Stampa on Monday. Pacifici added that he was bitter about "this inauspicious comment on Holocaust Memorial Day". The centre-left Democratic Party, which leads in the opinion polls, described Berlusconi's comments as "disgusting".

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