Craxi unmoved by bribes inquiry

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BETTINO CRAXI, the Italian Socialist leader and former prime minister, yesterday clung blindly and belligerently to his post despite investigations for corruption.

The Socialist Party executive which had gathered expecting his resignation, heard him insist again it was all a plot by the judiciary and others against him. 'In the face of such a violent and unjust attack from many quarters I have no intention of bowing my head and I have no intention of resigning,' he said.

Such a move 'would be seen as a sign of weakness, of surrender, if not even as an admission of guilt, given the hateful atmosphere which is continuing to spread in the country.'

At the same time he noted that since he was coming to the end of his term of office his mandate was at the party's disposal, but made it clear they would have to agree among themselves to remove him if he was to go before the party congress, scheduled for April. Both friends and foes within the party seized on this with evident relief and the executive decided to call a meeting of the party's national council to decide whether he should go.

Until now a majority of the party leaders, many of whom fear a change, have supported Mr Craxi. But the electoral disaster and the formal investigations may have convinced many that he must go if the party is to survive.

Mr Craxi, who has been secretary of the Socialist Party for 16 years, was told on Tuesday that he was suspected of 40 instances of corruption, receiving bribes and of violating the laws on party finances. The news came hard on the heels of humiliating losses for the party, largely as a result of the corruption scandals which have engulfed many other Socialist leaders, including close associates and relatives of Mr Craxi. Mr Craxi's refusal to go is seriously compounding the Socialists' crisis and, indirectly, further discrediting the established parties in general.

During the meeting the Prime Minister, Giuliano Amato - who is Mr Craxi's candidate to succeed him - expressed the party's solidarity over the investigations. 'Whatever responsibility you have to bear because of your role (as party secretary) is not and cannot be only yours because you took it on for all of us,' he said.