Embarrassed Fascists to sink flagship party

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ROME - Italy's neo-Fascists, in government for the first time since the Second World War, intend to disband the Italian Social Movement (MSI) founded by the political heirs of the dictator Benito Mussolini in a push for more respectability. A senior party official, Franco Servello, said the decision to dissolve the MSI was agreed at a late-night meeting of the party secretariat on Tuesday.

Mr Servello said yesterday that a closing congress of the MSI was being planned for 19 to 23 January when the leader, Gianfranco Fini, would call on members to merge fully into the conservative National Alliance movement that he set up nine months ago. 'It will be a transformation,' Mr Servello, a member of the secretariat, said. 'The move was decided by the political secretariat, and now it will be up to the congress to decide.'

The MSI, founded in 1946, has been the core party of the National Alliance, which Mr Fini formed to broaden his appeal and help shake off the Fascist label. Its continued existence has been a burden to the ambitious, clean-cut Mr Fini, 42, who has had to fight off domestic and foreign allegations of a Fascist revival since his movement entered the government of Silvio Berlusconi, in May.

La Stampa and Il Messaggero newspapers reported that the dissolution of the MSI had met opposition from party diehards, but that Mr Fini was adamant that its days were over. 'The transformation of the MSI into the National Alliance is irreversible,' La Stampa said, quoting Mr Fini.

He said the 'cycle of Fascism' had ended with Mussolini's death in 1945 and the MSI's cycle was also at an end. The MSI, which has 250,000 members including Mussolini's politician granddaughter Alessandra, was consigned to the wildnerness for nearly five decades with never more than a handful of members in parliament.