It was the 49th anniversary of the Liberation of Italy from the Fascist dictatorship, a day that would normally have been marked by more routine events. But the presence of the neo-Fascist National Alliance in the future government coalition and disturbing proposals by some of the country's new leaders had given it an intense significance.
The biggest demonstration was in Milan where an estimated 200,000 people formed a sea of banners as they marched in two gigantic columns through the streets to the central Piazza del Duomo. In Rome the designated square proved too small for the crowds.
'Never again' read a banner carried by former inmates of concentration camps, while speakers urged Italians never to depart from the ideals of the Resistance and of Italy's post-war democratic constitution, which some of the country's future leaders are suggesting should be changed.
Demonstrators whistled and shouted 'Fascist' and 'you got together with the Fascists' at Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, who has accepted a partnership with the National Alliance and Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia. He and his group had to be virtually isolated from the rest of the crowd by a heavy police cordon.
The huge crowds can only have been a morale-booster to the left after its defeat at the polls.
A noticeable absentee from demonstrations was Mr Berlusconi, the media magnate who is expected to be asked by President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro tomorrow to form a government. He let it be known that he, his family and friends had attended a mass 'for the fallen' in the private chapel of his headquarters at Arcore, near Milan.
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