Bossi's 'uprising' fails to convince

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(First Edition)

ROME (Reuter) - ITALIANS reacted with scepticism yesterday after the Northern League leader, Umberto Bossi, claimed he had prevented an armed uprising by 300,000 followers in the 1980s.

'There were 300,000 of them, armed and ready,' Mr Bossi said.

'I stopped them, I don't know how. I convinced them there was a democratic way of getting rid of the old guard,' Mr Bossi said of the revolt, which he claimed was brewing in the area around the northern town of Bergamo in 1986-1987. He was speaking to reporters in an impromptu news conference on a Sardinian beach on Monday.

Mr Bossi later said the federalist League, one of the three main partners in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government, had prevented an 'explosion of terrorism' by offering a democratic outlet for would-be separatists.

'If we had not prevented the revolt, the whole of the north would have caught fire,' said Mr Bossi, whose party built its support on outspoken attacks against Rome's political elite.

'In Lombardy, you can find anything from cannons to aeroplanes,' he added, referring to Italy's richest region, which is a transit point for traffic to the former Yugoslavia. The League has grown from a small protest party to a major player in parliament in the last decade. Mr Bossi claims his party's tirades against the inefficiency of Rome governments played a major leading role brought down the long- dominant Christian Democrat and Socialist old guard. The two parties were swept from power in March's general elections after being discredited by a huge corruption scandal.

Police in Bergamo said they knew nothing of any planned uprising in the 1980s. while the town's League MP, Roberto Calderoli played down Bossi's comments. Gianfranco Fini, the leader of the neo-Fascist National Alliance, another coalition partner, was also sceptical. 'I think someone would have noticed if there were 300,000 federalists ready to take up arms,' he said.

"This was just one of those summertime quips. Bossi has always said that the League's hard core is to be found in Bergamo and (nearby) Brescia," Calderoli was quoted as saying in the daily La Repubblica on Tuesday.

Several members of the neo-fascist-led National Alliance, another coalition partner, called on magistrates to open an inquiry into the affair.

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