Northern League puritans grapple with an itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny issue

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A MONTH after its huge municipal election successes, the Northern League is split three ways - over good taste and bikinis.

Some new League mayors in popular Ligurian Riviera resorts have banned bikinis, swimming trunks and other forms of succinct attire in streets, shops and snack-bars in a drive to restore decorum. Others still say anything goes, while another has declared that bikinis are fine but only on beautiful women.

'I'm not a bigot, it's not an attempt to moralise - but it's essential to stop a certain type of sleazy behaviour,' said Mayor Roberto Avogadro of Alassio, whose wardens have fined several dozen tourists for being over- exposed. He has also banned sleeping in public gardens, playing ball in the streets and throwing rubbish around, to the approval of the townsfolk.

The culprits are not foreigners but scantily-clad Italian weekend trippers who swarm over the town and its beaches, radios blaring, leaving a sea of litter and often sleeping in the open. 'Alassio has gone down a lot in recent years,' he said. 'Bookings have dropped badly, 30 per cent of the accommodation is unlet, foreigners almost never come any more.'

Pietra Ligure has also brought in a bikini ban, but Adelio Peruzzi, the Mayor of Bogliasco, refuses for fear of driving tourists away. 'People want to be free on holiday,' he said. 'I don't think it is scandalous to want to go around in a swimsuit after having had to wear a jacket and tie all year.'

Diano Marina is also trying to 'restore a sense of modesty in the streets' away from the beaches and promenade, said the mayor's spokesman, councillor Elio Novaro, but it is clear that here there is modesty and modesty. Mr Novaro caused something of a stir by telling the Corriere della Sera that they should not fine beautiful women, only carampane - a term originating from old Venetian meaning an ugly, vulgar slattern.

Seeking to explain himself to the Independent, he dived from the frying pan into the fire. 'It is nice to see a woman from 18 to about 35 in a bikini,' he said. 'And we hope that older women will have the good taste not to go round undressed.'

How will wardens decide who can wear a bikini and who can't?

'Oh, we would never ask a warden to fine an older lady because she was scantily dressed. For heaven's sake, no. That's a personal matter.'