Berlusconi rules out Fascist ministers: Prime minister-designate promises to consult unions and industrialists on government policy

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SILVIO BERLUSCONI, capitalist and Italy's prime minister-designate, yesterday formally started work by promising to consult and co-ordinate government policy with the trade unions.

Leaders of the three main trade- union confederations were the first to be received as he began official consultations before announcing his government programme and cabinet. He was due to receive representatives of Italy's industrialists, shopkeepers, farmers and artisans as well as his allies, the Northern League and the neo-Fascist-led National Alliance (AN).

Before beginning, he declared that there would be no Fascist ministers in his government. He was responding to a public warning by Franco Modigliani, the Italo-American Nobel Prize-winning economist, that 'the fear of Fascists in power is great'.

'There won't be any,' Mr Berlusconi said. 'I think it can be completely ruled out.' He did not elaborate but it appeared that he would exclude possible candidates who were members of the neo-Fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano before it joined other right-wingers and turned into the apparently less extremist AN. It seems likely that members of AN without a neo-Fascist or Fascist past would be considered. European left-wing parties are up in arms about the possibility of neo-Fascist ministers in power in a European country for the first time since the war and Michel Rocard, France's former Socialist prime minister, has proposed common action in protest.

But a shadow fell over the consultations when a Milan court ruled that three top executives of Mr Berlusconi's Fininvest empire, including Marcello dell'Utri, one of his closest colleagues, should be put in preventive detention. The court ruled that it was essential to prevent them fleeing abroad or tampering with evidence during investigations into suspected falsifying of their firms' accounts. The three will remain at liberty, however, pending their appeal to the Supreme Court.

Mr Berlusconi branded it a 'colossal blunder' - meaning on the part of the judiciary - and added that he was 'certain that the Supreme Court will sort it out'.

The ruling was a reminder of trouble that will not quickly go away for Mr Berlusconi: magistrates last week applied for the go- ahead to put his brother Paolo, who took over his vast property interests, on trial for bribery. A similar request has been made against Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League and its treasurer, Sandro Patelli.

Meanwhile, Antonio Di Pietro and other anti-corruption magistrates firmly declined to join the new government. Mr Berlusconi had reportedly tried hard to persuade Dr Di Pietro to become Interior Minister, thus possibly solving the most difficult problem in the way of his new cabinet.

Today Mr Berlusconi will also see official media watchdogs.