Berlusconi's Mussolini defence may be investigated

Prosecutors called to check postwar ban on promoting Fascism

Berlusconi's Mussolini defence may be investigated

Rome, January 28 - A Roman politician laid a formal complaint with prosecutors Monday against Silvio Berlusconi one day after the ex-premier now seeking re-election made comments defending Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Gianfranco Mascia, a local candidate in the Lazio region where Rome is based, asked prosecutors to investigate whether Berlusconi's comments made a day earlier promoted Fascism and violated a postwar ban. "Today's initiative represents a reaction to the...Berlusconi joke," said Mascia, who is campaigning in next month's elections with the Civil Revolution party. His complaint, which asks prosecutors to investigate possible criminal charges, is supported by Antonio Ingroia, leader of Civil Revolution at the national level, said Mascia. Berlusconi set off a storm of controversy on Sunday when he said the 1938 anti-Jewish racial laws were the "worst fault" of the Fascist dictator, adding that in many other ways Mussolini "did well". To make matters worse, his comments came after he attended a ceremony in Milan to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. There, the three-time Italian premier also said Mussolini had no alternative but to enter the Second World War because otherwise Germany, if victorious, would have dominated Europe alone - an assertion many historians dispute. Berlusconi also dozed during Sunday's ceremony. In his defence Monday, Berlusconi insisted: "I have always made it clear and unequivocal that the racial laws will always be a stigma and I have always condemned any type of dictatorship." He added that he has been known as a "friend of Israel," and that Italians of good sense will understand his Sunday remarks are now being twisted by his political opponents. Yet it was not only his political critics who quickly seized on his remarks, as other observers also said they were deeply offended. Italy's Jewish community expressed anger and some suggested the comments were an attempt by Berlusconi to win support from extreme right-wing supporters. "It's no use swearing your friendship to the Jewish people and to Israel (as Berlusconi has) if you then minimize 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. And the European Union Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom said Berlusconi's defence of Mussolini "nurtured hate" and called on political leaders to oppose his comments.

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