Italian Socialists involved in scandals forced out: The party's new leader prescribes 'shock therapy' to save it from disintegration and create a fresh image

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The Independent Online
THE SOCIALISTS' national executive, with a pistol held to its head by its new leader, Giorgio Benvenuto, yesterday accepted a drastic shock therapy in the hopes of saving the disgraced and rapidly disintegrating party.

It agreed, after bitter resistance in a heated 12-hour session, that all members under investigation should resign from party posts, even though they have not been tried. If they refuse they will be removed compulsorily. It also consented to hold a national assembly by the end of June to found what Mr Benvenuto describes as 'a new socialist force' with a new name and symbol.

Mr Benvenuto, a former union leader who was brought in three months ago to clean up the party after the disastrous corruption scandals, had threatened to quit if the leadership did not agree. Such a move would probably be a fatal blow to the party's ruined public image.

He decided to get tough after a widespread revolt among the party's rank and file and the resignation of distinguished members over the Chamber of Deputies' vote last week to block the prosecution for corruption of Bettino Craxi, the party's long-time leader and former prime minister.

'That vote has dealt a fresh blow to the already dreadfully weakened body of the Socialist Party,' Mr Benvenuto told the executive. The Craxi era, he said, 'has closed with a historic defeat'. But the traditions of the party must be saved 'even at the cost of great personal sacrifices'.

For many, the vote had been the last straw after devastating allegations against Mr Craxi and many of the party's leaders. So far 44 of the 140 Socialist members of parliament are under investigation, as are 10 out of the 37 members of the executive and two of the 14 in the secretariat. The party's share of the vote, which was almost 14 per cent in last year's general elections, has slipped to a probable 5 per cent.

Mr Benvenuto's attempts to repair the damage had little visible effect. The discredited old guard stayed around while the party, its multi-million-pound income from illegal kick- backs suddenly cut off, is almost paralysed by a devastating financial crisis.

Staff have not been paid for months and Mr Benvenuto, who is working for nothing, has to use his own car and pay his official phone bills.

The party's name appears likely to change from the Italian Socialist Party to the 'European Socialists', and the symbol from a red carnation to the more international red rose surrounded by the 12 stars of the European Community. But these are the least of the problems it will have to solve if Socialism is to survive in Italy.

Four new cabinet ministers, all experts without party affiliations, were sworn in yesterday to replace three ex-Communist ministers and a Green who pulled out of the new government after the Craxi vote last week.

Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the Prime Minister, will seek parliamentary approval for his week-old government after a debate scheduled for today and tomorrow.

The new ministers are Marco Gallo, a university professor and tax expert, at Finance; Livio Paladin, former president of the Constitutional Court - EC and regional affairs; Paolo Barile, constitutional expert - relations with parliament; Umberto Colombo, head of the state alternative energy agency, Enea - universities and research.