Here come the Blairs, there goes the neighbourhood...

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Grandiose building work ordered by Silvio Berlusconi at the Sardinian villa where he will host Tony Blair this month has outraged local environmentalists. They accuse the Italian Prime Minister of violating the pristine Mediterranean island coastline through unauthorised efforts to impress his British guest.

More than 100 workers are working 12-hour shifts to complete a Greek-style amphitheatre in the grounds of the Villa Certosa, Corriere della Sera newspaper reported yesterday. The media mogul plans to entertain Mr Blair and his wife Cherie on 16 and 17 August with recitations of Shakespearean drama and a concert by Luciano Pavarotti.

Mr Berlusconi arrived at the nearby Sardinian town of Portorotondo from Rome on Friday to supervise the work.

Local authorities are especially critical of a new harbour blasted out of the dazzlingly beautiful rocky coastline next to a grotto on the estate at Punta Lada.

Officials of the regional government of Sardinia have also accused Mr Berlusconi of illegally building a fortified bunker tunnel leading from the grotto to a vertical shaft. This contains a hi-tech lift that will whisk the Blairs to the cliffs above the harbour, out of the view of the media. Mr Berlusconi's personal architect, Gianni Gamondi, has cancelled his summer holidays to supervise the work at the villa in time for the Blairs' visit, the Milan newspaper said.

"The law must be respected by all citizens including citizen Berlusconi," said the head of the regional government, Renato Soru. Official sources at Palazzo Chigi, the Italian Prime Minister's office, said that the work on the coastline was necessary for the security of the British leader.

Local members of the Olive Tree centre-left coalition have opposed coastline changes since May when they tried to land on Mr Berlusconi's property in small boats. Mr Berlusconi's office has gone so far as to slap an official state secrecy order on the changes, which include an artificial lake, to fend off his critics. Regional government member Giacomo Sanna has started proceedings for the state secrecy orders to be lifted.

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