Bergamo

Calderoli probed over orangutan jibe, row rumbles on

Accused of inciting racial hatred of first black minister

Calderoli probed over orangutan jibe, row rumbles on

(By Christopher Livesay) Bergamo, July 17 - Northern League Deputy Senate Speaker Roberto Calderoli is being investigated for aggravated defamation and incitement of racial hatred for comparing Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge to an orangutan, Bergamo prosecutors said on Wednesday. Calderoli made the comparison, which he called "a joke", during a weekend rally for the anti-immigrant Northern Leage at a festival near his home city of Bergamo. He later said that his comments, slammed as the umpteenth racist insult by members of his party against Italy's first black minister, were born from his "love for animals". "It was an aesthetic judgment, not meant to be racist," he added. His apologies were not enough to prevent an official complaint to Italy's anti-racial discrimination body on Monday by Democratic Party (PD) Senator Sergio Lo Giudice, who called the remarks "a disturbing incident of racially motivated offenses". The incident has become a firestorm as embarrassing international headlines have mounted. But the Northern League has rallied behind their heavyweight, who has showed no signs of bowing to calls for his resignation, thanks in part to the support of Northern League leader and Lombardy Governor Roberto Maroni, who considers the case closed. According to sources at Premier Enrico Letta's office, the premier said Tuesday that the case had not blown over and that, by acting in this way, Maroni was "an accomplice to the insult to Minister Kyenge". Maroni on Wednesday accused Letta of spouting "rubbish". "For me the question is closed. Calderoli has apologised and Letta would be better taking care of other things". Calderoli is only one of several Italian politicians to attack the Congolese-born doctor-turned-politician, who was appointed in April. A Trento area councillor was expelled Wednesday from his political party for racist remarks about Italy's first black cabinet minister. "Go back to the jungle," Paolo Serafini, formerly of the Northern League, wrote on his Facebook page about Kyenge. Along with the comment, Serafini posted photos of monkeys. As a result, he was ejected from the Trentino Project, a movement he joined after leaving the Northern League. On the same day a local councillor in Padua was found guilty of instigation to commit racist sex crimes against Kyenge. Dolores Valandro was handed a suspended sentence of 13 months in prison and was banned from public office for three years. Valandro, who called for the minister to be raped in a June 13 Facebook post, has since been expelled from the Northern League.

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