Amato survives after Senate scuffles

Click to follow
PANDEMONIUM reigned in the Italian Senate yesterday with the opposition shouting 'Resign]', 'Buffoon]' and 'Thieves]', throwing counterfeit money and stamping their feet as a visibly furious Giuliano Amato, the Prime Minister, fought to explain his government's misbegotten attempt to keep crooked politicians out of jail.

In the end the government, whose fate had been balanced on a knife-edge, comfortably won a resolution instructing it to soldier on and the threat of a political vacuum receded again, at least for the time being.

Some of the most tumultuous scenes in the Italian parliament's post-war history raged amid the red velvet and gilt benches. Senators, especially the Northern League, the hardline Communists and the neo-fascists, leapt up and down, gesticulating and bellowing insults while the Speaker, Giovanni Spadolini, angrily rang his bell for order.

Mr Amato shouted louder and louder to be heard over the din and twice his temper snapped. He thumped on the the podium and roared 'Basta] (Enough]) Shut up]' at a Communist leader and again 'Shut up' at his own secretary of state, who was shouting to the opposition to calm down. The hardline Communist leader, Lucio Libertini, mocked Mr Amato by saying his reaction was 'the roar of the mouse', referring to the Prime Minister's cartoon caricature as Mickey Mouse.

At one point a senator from the Northern League flung fistfuls of false banknotes - 59,000-lire ones with the head of Bettino Craxi, the former Socialist prime minister and now the principal accused, and 10,000-lire notes bearing the head of Giuliano Andre otti, the former Christian Dem ocrat prime minister - over the benches. Enraged, a Socialist senator leapt up and went to grab him but the ushers moved in swiftly to separate them and prevent a fight.

'It is a disgrace. It is a shameful spectacle,' Mr Spadolini shouted. 'Intolerant intolerance,' fumed Mr Amato. Later, having survived the vote by 143-99 with one abstention, he said he had 'in a sense' expected the reaction and said it was probably partly due to the presence of television cameras. 'It is like the chorus of an ancient Greek tragedy,' he said.

He had hardly begun to speak when the barracking started and the applause of the government supporters for him and his Justice Minister, Giovanni Conso, kept being drowned out by whistles and shouts.

As hardline Communists chanted demands for his resignation, Mr Amato said: 'We can't go one like this, with people asking me in private to stay in office and then publicly calling on me to resign.' Towards the end he appeared to take a deep breath and, in a calmer voice, announced that, when his government comes to an end - 'whether it is in a day, a month or longer' - he will withdraw from politics.

His decision was intended to set an example of how the political scene must change, he said, and also to stress how he saw his task as a service to his country.

The Prime Minister claimed that the disastrous move to 'de- penalise' the taking of illicit funds by politicians was an attempt to find a speedier way of dealing with the masses of corruption cases and remove erring politicians from circulation. There had to be an end to the situation of daily 'casualty reports' he said, meaning the numbers of politicians and entrepreneurs arrested or put under investigation each day. He quoted instances in which his strongest critics had urged him to do precisely that.

Mr Amato angrily accused the opposition parties of trying to force elections before a new electoral law had been passed - knowing that they stood to lose under a different system. 'Do you have another majority? Then get it together and we will go into opposition,' challenged the leader of the Christian Democrat coalition party, Mino Martinazzoli.

In the end realism won and the opposition parties who, like the coalition, want to keep the government alive until a new electoral law is in place, joined to give it its majority. Mr Spadolini later urged the parties to try again and see if they could not find a broader majority for the government.

Opposition speakers remained incensed that Mr Amato had not apologised to parliament for his government's action and called his speech 'arrogant'. Despite surviving the vote, the government has been badly damaged by its astounding inability to foresee how its attempt to absolve corrupt politicians would be received.

(Photograph omitted)