Bossi sets tough terms for joining Italian government

PONTIDA - Umberto Bossi, the fiery leader of Italy's federalist Northern League, yesterday attached strict conditions to his party's entry into government and again raised the spectre of a breakaway by the north.

Addressing a raucous rally of thousands of supporters, Mr Bossi demanded commitments to federalism and free-market economics in return for entering government, and set a six-month deadline for their implementation. 'Within the new government we want two specific mandates for the League's ministers: a mandate to write a new federalist constitution . . . and a mandate to write an anti- trust law like they have in America,' he said.

Mr Bossi said the League would bring down the government and lead a northern breakaway if it did not get swift action. 'If changes do not come about quickly . . . we'll be back here in six months, having brought down the government, to say there is no chance of changing. Then the north will go its own way.'

The League teamed up with the Forza Italia party of media magnate Silvio Berlusconi and Gianfranco Fini's neo-Fascists in a right-wing Freedom Alliance, which emerged triumphant from the ballot box in last month's elections. But attempts at forming Italy's 53rd post-war government have been hamstrung by Mr Bossi's demands on federalism, and his veto on Mr Berlusconi becoming prime minister.

In Rome, Mr Berlusconi said yesterday he was considering setting up an independent trust to run his businesses while he was in politics. The tycoon, one of Italy's richest men, said a clear division had to be drawn between political life and private interests, and it was just a question of finding the most suitable method.

'I realise it is not enough just to declare oneself an honourable man . . . (we need to find) a solution that shuts out any kind of speculation, particularly on the part of the opposition,' he told a political rally.

He said he was considering establishing a blind trust, following a US example. Under a blind trust, a business is run by independent executives, often drawn from banks, and the owner is not party to any decisions.

Mr Berlusconi, who stepped down as president of Fininvest before the elections but remains its sole shareholder, said during the campaign he was ready to sell some of the business. But Fininvest executives have come out strongly against breaking up the group, which is Italy's second largest family-controlled company after Fiat.

Il Duce reassessed, page 17