Berlusconi wants G8 to meet in earthquake town

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The Independent Online

Silvio Berlusconi delivered another of his trademark thunderbolts today, demanding that the G8 summit in July, due to be held at La Maddalena in Sardinia, be switched to the earthquake-stricken city of L'Aquila.

The idea has reportedly been under consideration for some time, but he finally unveiled it formally at a special cabinet meeting held in a police barracks outside L'Aquila yesterday morning, saying it would put the city "in the centre of world attention". His cabinet gave the move the green light.

The opposition Democratic Party meekly fell into line and now all that remains to be seen – and it may not be a minor obstacle – is how the leaders of the other seven countries react.

In normal times, the venue might be a straightforward switch. L'Aquila is 100km east of Rome and linked to it by a good autostrada. But, as the world knows, today the city is in ruins.

Mr Berlusconi claimed the change of venue would save €220m (£200m) which could be used to help L'Aquila, epicentre of the earthquake that struck on 6 April, to get back on its feet. He insisted there would be sufficient hotel and conference venue options available to ensure the change went smoothly.

He also argued that protesters would not have the gall to bring violent protests to a town where so many have suffered. "I really don't believe they would have the will or the face to come here and demonstrate in a tough way," Mr Berlusconi said.

"La Maddalena is too nice," he went on. "It would have been a G8 out of keeping with the economic crisis we are passing through, while L'Aquila is a more sober location."

Nearly 300 people died in the earthquake and Mr Berlusconi has made great political capital out of his concern for the population, visiting the city almost daily and taking a detailed interest both in the rescue operation and in the challenge of rebuilding the city and the Abruzzo region.

The few who were openly critical of Mr Berlusconi's idea included the opposition leader, Antonio di Pietro, who warned that the arrival of the world's leaders "would add confusion to confusion", and the mayor of La Maddalena, Angelo Comiti, who called the proposal "improbable and illogical, and certainly not pleasing to those who have been organising the summit for more than one year".