Mitterrand angers the new order in Italy

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The Independent Online
A CHILL has fallen on Italy's relations with France following grave doubts expressed by President Francois Mitter rand about Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's control of private television channels and his neo-Fascist ministers.

President Mitterrand's remarks, made in a joint interview with La Repubblica, the Independent, El Pais, and other leading European newspapers, have prompted sharp protests here.

Asked for his views on a media magnate (Mr Berlusconi) who uses his empire to win an election, President Mitterrand said: 'It is an approach to democracy that we are not accustomed to and which I think is to be feared.' The presence of neo-Fascists in government, he added, 'is a model that others will seek to imitate. There is the risk of a grave distortion of democracy.'

Mr Berlusconi's office said: 'In Italy nothing has happened which is to be feared.' Its statement added tartly: 'None of us would dream of passing judgement (on the governments of democratic allies).' Antonio Martino, the Italian Foreign Minister who was in Paris on Thursday, said President Mitterrand's remarks were 'unacceptable'.