Bossi predicts march towards federalism: Success in mayoral polls has boosted Northern League ambitions, writes Patricia Clough in Rome

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UMBERTO BOSSI, fresh from the triumph of his Northern League in Sunday's mayoral election run-offs, has vowed to make Milan a model city with the financial muscle to push for Italy to become a federal state.

'We have won in Milan, we will win the general elections and then we will be a big political bloc in the country - so there will be federalism,' he told reporters after the League's candidate, Marco Formentini, was elected Mayor of Milan over his left-wing rival, Nando dalla Chiesa. 'Milan will become the model to offer the country to usher in federalism.'

While Milan and numerous other northern cities went to the League, the former Communists, with or without allies, won in central Italy and parts of the south. Most of the run-offs involved new political formations; the scandal-hit Christian Democrats won only in five smaller places while the rest of the discredited ruling parties have virtually disappeared.

Mr Bossi, the disconcerting, loud-mouthed, canny political force of nature who created the League and turned it into the biggest party in the rich, sophisticated north, had long dreamt of claiming Milan. It is the capital of the north and all it stands for - industriousness, Europeanness, efficiency, wealth. It was the leader among the northern cities which developed a strong civic culture in the Middle Ages and fought the Holy Roman Emperors, providing the League with history and mythology to cultivate a special identity. And, for him, it is the springboard for the conquest of corrupt, thieving, decadent Rome.

But which League will govern in Milan? The campaign showed the League has two souls: Mr Bossi with his vulgar, insulting, rabble-rousing campaign style that delights his right-wingers and alarms those concerned about the future of Italy's democracy, and Mr Formentini, a former regional administrator and Eurocrat, steady, calm, conciliatory, promising he would be the 'Mayor of all Milanese'.

Milan magistrates are considering charging Mr Bossi with slander for calling their Turin colleagues 'criminals' because his charge of ballot-rigging in the first round in Turin (in which the League candidate was eliminated from the run-off) was not being dealt with fast enough. On Sunday he said the League would not recognise the winner, Valentino Castellani, 'elected by gigantic swindle'.

Mr Bossi, repeatedly accused of being a 'barbarian' appears unrepentant. 'If being the catalysors of genuinely great reforms to restore to Italy everything that the scoundrels have taken away from it in their 40-year regime means being barbarians, then this epithet does not offend us' he said.

Mr Formentini, he said 'will not be a mayor with his hat in his hand, a Mayor waiting for money from Rome like dalla Chiesa would have been. Formentini will find the money - and not state money but money from privatisations'. Milan municipal companies will be sold off, thus destroying the system of political patronage, allowing ordinary people to buy shares and thus 'changing politics in the country'.