Italy's President goes on TV to deny scandal

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The Independent Online
ITALY'S head of state, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, made a dramatic live television address last night denying accusations that he took illegal payments from the secret services, and denouncing the allegations as an attempt to destroy the country.

His sudden and unscheduled appearance which interrupted programmes followed allegations by former top officials of SISDE, the civilian security service, that between 1982 and 1992 interior ministers were paid 100m lire ( pounds 42,000) a month from the service's secret funds. President Scalfaro was interior minister from 1983 to 1987.

His seven-minute speech, made in a calm voice, followed an unscheduled 20-minute cabinet meeting, after which the Prime Minister, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, and the speakers of the two houses of Parliament drove to the Quirinale, the presidential palace.

The cabinet issued a statement deploring the allegations and expressing 'institutional support' for the President, whose 'fidelity to the principles of democracy and the laws of the republic cannot be sullied by murky manoeuvrings'. It also expressed support for the Interior Minister, Nicola Mancino, who has also been named.

The charges against the President and the alarm they have caused are an extremely grave development in Italy's uncertain transition period following the corruption scandals and collapse of its post-war political system. President Scalfaro has been a vital element of stability in the political turmoil of the past year, keeping a calm grip on the helm of state, backing the fragile transitional governments and working towards fresh elections under a new electoral law.

If the President were to step down, that would greatly shake Italians' confidence in their institutions and in the remaining politicians who are still respected.

In his address the white-haired President told Italians: 'We have to remain calm and steady'. 'First with the bombs and now with the shameful and ignoble accusations' people were attempting the slow destruction of the state, he said. Earlier this year, Mr Scalfaro accused the Mafia and political opponents of being behind a series of car bombs across Italy.