North Italy says split 'a mistake'

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ROME - Despite the immense popularity of the secessionist Northern League in the Italy, 60 per cent of northern Italians say it would be a mistake to split up the country, according to an opinion poll published yesterday, writes Patricia Clough.

Although more than half think that life would be better without the South - better public services, more jobs available and more chances of economic development - 56 per cent would feel 'great regret' at the declaration of a separate northern Italian state. Nevertheless, more than one in four - 27 per cent - say secession would be a good idea and 21 per cent would feel 'great relief' to be rid of the South.

The poll, for the weekly L'Espresso, was held before the League's leaders scandalised many people by advising them not to buy treasury bonds, saying they might never get their money back.

The League has made itself the mouthpiece of discontent with its provocative attacks on the present political system, but 56 per cent think its politicians would behave the same as those in power now.

The League's secessionist talk and its attack on treasury bonds, which came on the heels of calls for a tax strike and advice to invest abroad rather than in Italy, have aroused serious concern among non-enthusiasts. And at the weekend the advice was the target of an unprecedented attack by Italy's highly respected President, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro. 'The unity of the nation (is) sacred and inviolable' he declared. 'Woe betide those who undermine it.'

Anyone who opposes the laws of the state or urges people to disobey them, he went on, alluding to the tax strike, 'commits a crime, and together with the crime commits an even more serious act which is the violation of constitutional, juridical and human solidarity which is vital to the life of a nation'.