Politics: Party's Roots in Mussolini Years

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ITALY'S ALLEANZA Nazionale has spent the past five years trying to prove it has shed the last vestiges of its fascist past. Gianfranco Fini describes it as "post-fascist", a modern, open, centre-right grouping similar to the British Tories or American Republicans.

A former partner in Silvio Berlusconi's short-lived government, it has become a key element of the opposition after transforming itself into an electable conservative force. But opponents say it can never escape its roots in Mussolini's Blackshirt movement. Mr Fini created the party in 1994 out of the Italian Social Movement, the avowedly neo-fascist descendant of Mussolini's followers. After purging most of the MSI's hardliners, Fini subsumed its membership into the new party.

As president of a party with 91 MPs, 41 senators and 10 MEPs, he has been accused by far-right colleagues of selling out.

Last year Mr Fini proclaimed a new beginning for the AN as it adopted light blue as its party colour and a voter-friendly ladybird as its symbol. The offensive appears to have paid off as the party asserts itself as a credible force in the opposition to the centre-left government in Rome.