Craxi fury threatens to destroy coalition

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The Independent Online
THE PRESIDENT of Italy and the speakers of the two houses of parliament vowed at the weekend to hold tightly to the democratic helm as another violent tempest lashed Italy's disintegrating political world.

The storm was unleashed by Bettino Craxi, leader of the Socialist Party and former prime minister, and his close associates after the Milan magistrates investigating large-scale political corruption, ordered an unprecedented round of arrests and notifications of proceedings to himself and many other prominent political figures, mostly Socialists.

They furiously accused the magistrates, in effect, of conducting a coup d'etat. And it is feared that Mr Craxi, who is already wrecking his own party, may, like Samson, bring the government crashing down too.

Seven people, including the former speaker of the Lombardy regional parliament and a former deputy head of the Lombardy regional government - both Socialists - had been arrested and jailed on Friday. Warrants are out for seven more. Another six were notified of investigations for alleged corruption and extortion, including Mr Craxi (his third case), Gianni de Michelis, the former foreign minister (his second) and Severino Citaristi, administrative secretary of the Christian Democrat party (his seventh.)

But what seems to have infuriated Mr Craxi and his colleagues most was the searches of the secretariat and administrative offices of the Socialist Party in Rome by the carabinieri who confiscated large quantities of documents. Never, in Italy's post-war history, had such a thing happened.

Mr Craxi summoned the party secretariat which issued a statement declaring that the magistrates had 'created a situation which involves serious risks for political and institutional stability'. Later he accused them of an 'ever more violent attempt to criminalise the political system or large sections of it'. And, giving an illuminating glimpse of the surreal, topsy-turvy world into which he and his group appear to have retreated, he appealed 'to democratic people to react, because there can be no moralisation of public life without a return to the constitutional order and respect for the law . . . above all by those who are required to apply it'.

The National Magistrates' Association hit back, calling the appeal 'an ill-advised outburst of rage by one who claims to be above ordinary citizens'. If the Socialists hoped the President would defend them against the judiciary, they were disappointed. He held a lengthy summit meeting with the speakers of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, Giovanni Spadolini and Giorgio Napolitano, after which the latter two issued a brief statement committing themselves 'to do everything in parliament to avert the danger of tensions in the relations between the powers of the state'. By this they clearly meant they would not allow the politicians to try to save themselves by blackening or obstructing the judiciary.

Now the President appears anxious to prevent the whole affair destroying Giulio Amato's fragile government, which would be extremely difficult to replace. He summoned Achille Occhetto, leader of the former Communists, who has tabled a vote of no-confidence in parliament next week which, given the emotional state of many MPs, could succeed. No details of their talk were disclosed.

The Socialist members of the cabinet and the party secretariat meet tonight. Party sources first leaked, then denied, that they would pull out of the government coalition. The only thing that seems certain at present is that Mr Craxi will fight to the last. After Friday's events he announced to the press, waving an antique tome, that he was going home to 'read a book'. It was A Course on the Art and Science of Military Strategy - Applied and Compared Tactics.