Andreotti smooths Italian turmoil: Former prime minister agrees to Mafia hearing

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The Independent Online
SAN GENNARO is displeased. The blood of Naples' fourth-century patron saint, which usually liquefies with little trouble at the beginning of May, has for three days remained as dry as dust. And that, as all Italy knows, bodes no good at all.

On Saturday, despite the prayers of hundreds of faithful led by the Mayor, Francesco Tagliamonte, the miracle which has been taking place more or less regularly since 1389 refused to happen. On Sunday, despite day-long prayers, insults and imprecations, the brownish substance in the sacred ampulla remained obstinately solid. And by yesterday evening it was still holding out.

The Cardinal Archbishop, Michele Giordano, denounced what he evidently saw as the reason: 'the cult of pleasure which pursues only economic well-being, physical health and sexual enjoyment', the 'dominant sexuality' and 'excessive erotisation' of the present era. 'If pleasure is considered the new god, we must not be surprised at the spectacle of thieving, corruption and social climbing which this country presents in all spheres,' he told the faithful.

It is not the first time San Gennaro (Saint Januarius, Bishop of Benevento, thought to have been martyred near Naples around the year AD 305) has failed to oblige amid big political events. He appeared to take great exception, some years back, to the arrival of a left-wing city administration led by a Communist mayor.

Could he perhaps be upset about the corruption scandals? The accusations against top Naples politicians for conniving with the Camorra, the city's Mafia? The scandalous refusal of the Chamber of Deputies to allow Bettino Craxi, the former Socialist prime minister, to face justice for alleged corruption?

If so, Giulio Andreotti, the former Christian Democrat prime minister, may have eased things by announcing yesterday that he will ask the Senate to give its consent to his prosecution on suspicion of complicity with the Mafia. His announcement defused a potentially explosive situation which could have destroyed the fledgling government of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

'Convinced as I am of the complete baselessness of the grave accusations against me, I desire only that the judiciary thoroughly ascertain the entire truth and who is responsible . . . I do not want my case further to exacerbate a very sensitive situation.'

The Speaker of the Senate, Giovanni Spadolini, who had been considering postponing Thursday's vote on Mr Andreotti because another 'no' could have had disastrous consequences for the government, which seeks the approval of the Chamber of Deputies the same day, reacted with relief. Mr Andreotti's decision 'helps to calm down the atmosphere in the country and reinforce the prestige of its institutions', he said.

It was a shrewd move by Mr Andreotti. He has emerged looking much better than the detested Mr Craxi. At the same time he has avoided the humiliation of a vote against him because, after the fearsome national outcry over the Craxi vote, the Senate would hardly have had the gall to protect Mr Andreotti.

Mr Ciampi looked likely last night to have the support of the former Communists, the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS), on reforming the electoral laws and the now discredited institution of parliamentary immunity. But Achille Occhetto, opening a meeting of the PDS leadership, insisted the reform had to be passed by July, and stressed that the party should not give the government its general support.