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Italy's 'post-Fascist' leader hails Mussolini

GIANFRANCO FINI, leader of the neo-Fascist National Alliance (AN), yesterday reminded Italians abruptly of whom they had elected when he described the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini as the 'greatest statesman of the century'.

Italy will become the first European country to have neo-Fascist government ministers since the war if, as seems likely, the right-wing alliance of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, the Northern League and AN agree on a government programme.

Mr Fini had contributed to his party's success in last weekend's elections by giving it a 'respectable' image and playing down the Fascist past. In an interview with La Stampa yesterday, he said Fascism should be judged by history and that his party was not 'a prisoner of the contradictions of the past'. Questioned about his views on Mussolini, he replied: 'I would still say he is the greatest statesman of the century.'

Asked whether the media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi could compare with Mussolini, he replied: 'Berlusconi would have to pedal hard to show that he belongs to history like Mussolini. Two identical men are not born in a year and not even in a century.'

Mr Fini insisted that the AN was 'not neo-Fascist but post-Fascist' and added: 'There is nothing in common between the Italian right and the French or German right, for the simple reason that Fascism was an Italian phenomenon.'

Mr Fini's office was reported to be packed with bouquets of flowers: the neo-Fascists, for 50 years the outcasts of Italian politics are being courted by large numbers of people who previously would have nothing to do with them.

'The race to jump on the bandwagon, I have found (is) a sport more popular than football,' Mr Fini said. He was being approached, he said, not so much by politicians but by 'directors general, high civil servants, chief executives of public and private firms, people who wield less visible but often very important slices of power'. Mr Fini said the new government would impose a 'radical renewal of all the nomenklatura' in the country, but 'without vendettas'.

Mr Berlusconi and leaders of the Northern League had more talks yesterday on a government programme. Umberto Bossi, who the previous evening had reversed his earlier acceptance of Mr Berlusconi as prime minister, was not present. The League representatives played down his absence, saying he was not in the negotiating delegation and that he had gone on holiday. After a meeting of the League's federal council, Mr Bossi had demanded that the prime minister should be Roberto Maroni, the League's floor leader in the outgoing lower house. Talks continue next week.

ITALIAN magistrates investigating alleged corruption offences recommended yesterday that Cesare Romiti, the managing director of Fiat SpA, and 60 others stand trial for graft, Reuter reports.

Bettino Craxi, the ex-prime minister, and Franco Nobili, former head of the state holding, Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale, were named in the case, involving the awarding of contracts for Rome's underground railway.