Bomb is defused near Blair holiday villa

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The Independent Online

A crude bomb made from a stick of gelignite was found and defused on Tuesday night close to Silvio Berlusconi's Sardinian holiday home, a few hours after the departure of Tony and Cherie Blair.

A crude bomb made from a stick of gelignite was found and defused on Tuesday night close to Silvio Berlusconi's Sardinian holiday home, a few hours after the departure of Tony and Cherie Blair.

The bomb was located after an anonymous phone call to a local daily paper, Unione Sarda. It was found near the centre of Porto Rotondo, a luxurious holiday resort just over a mile from Villa Certosa, where the Blairs stayed overnight on Monday as guests of the Italian Prime Minister. It was concealed in a backpack next to a rubbish bin in a container fashioned out of a rock, with a metal door.

Mr Berlusconi has been the subject of threats by Islamic militants. Most recently they demanded his resignation and a pull-out of Italian troops from Iraq by 15 August, otherwise, they said, "Italy will burn".

Mr Berlusconi's walkabout with Mr and Mrs Blair in a shopping centre close to his villa on Monday evening was his way of showing how little the threats bothered him.

But the caller to the Sardinian newspaper claimed to be speaking on behalf of an ultra-left Sardinian group, the Proletarian Nuclei for Communism (NPC), which has been waging a persistent but low-level campaign for Sardinian independence for several years.

Kataweb, an Italian news website which has been collating news of NPC's campaign, said yesterday it had carried out 223 acts of violence and intimidation between 1 January 2001 and 15 March 2004. Of those about 10 were serious, though the bombs have caused no deaths or injuries.

Recent attacks include a bomb blast in the office of Alleanza Nazionale, the "post-Fascist" party, which is part of Mr Berlusconi's governing coalition, an attack on a tourist nightclub, and another on a branch of McDonald's.

The warning, phoned in at 10.45pm, gave the exact location of the bomb. The bomb disposal officers who found it said it was set to go off at 4.30 on Wednesday morning . The person who phoned also said there was a second bomb "which you can find for yourselves". But despite an extensive search, no second device was found.

Porto Rotondo, round the rocky headland from Mr Berlusconi's villa, was created around a bay after the Aga Khan bought land along the coast, the Costa Smeralda, 40 years ago.

The resort has transformed an arid and unpopulated stretch of rocky coast into one of the most expensive strips of real estate in Italy. Artfully jumbled cottages with terracotta roofs tumble to miniature piazzas lined with boutiques. Prices in the resort's cafés and restaurants are around twice those elsewhere on the island.

Investigators believe the bomb may have been planted after the Blairs departed and before police who were protecting them returned to the resort.

Mr Berlusconi professes to love Sardinia, and treated the Blairs to a briefing on Sardinian history and culture as well as much island food and wine. But as a super-rich Milanese he is the natural enemy of Sardinian separatists, angry at the exploitation of their beautiful but dirt-poor island by capitalists from elsewhere.

Security around Mr Berlusconi's estate was tightened yesterday. But Mr Berlusconi was reported to be calm, and intending to continue his Sardinian holiday as planned.

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