Poll date row worries Rome

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The Independent Online
THE ITALIAN Prime Minister, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, will meet the speakers of the two houses of parliament today to seek ways out of the embarrassing fix provoked by the decision to hold general elections on 27 March, the Jewish Feast of the Passover.

Mr Ciampi yesterday said the government was prepared to take urgent measures to extend polling to 28 March, so that Jews could vote. Orthodox Jews would be barred by their religion from going to the polls on the 27th and until an hour after sunset on the 28th. The move would give them around two and a half hours in which they could vote, though it would mean temporarily recalling parliament, dissolved on Sunday.

The Chief Rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, yesterday consulted lawyers on legal action to enforce the right to vote. 'If a solution is not found we will appeal right up to the highest courts to have our religious freedom protected and the Jewish Easter held in due consideration,' he said.

There are about 35,000 Jews in Italy. It was not known how many are strictly observant and likely to be prevented from voting.

The Prime Minister visited the Chief Rabbi on Sunday to apologise and explain why the government had to pick the 27th. Earlier, Jewish leaders said that an extension to the 28th was unsuitable, but yesterday the deputy president of the Jewish communities, Dario Tedeschi, said it could indeed provide a solution.

The issue was an unfortunate start for Italy's brave new Second Republic, which will rise with the elections from the ruins of the corruption-wrecked First. 'The Second Republic has set off on the wrong foot,' said Milan's Il Giornale Nuovo. 'A civilised country can be measured by the way it respects its minorities,' wrote Paolo Miele, editor of the Corriere della Sera.

Messages expressing indignation and support have been flooding in to the Jewish community from organisations, politicians and personalities. On Sunday the leader of the Jewish youth movement, Davide Romano, began a hunger strike and Rabbi Alberto Piattelli remarked that there had not been a parallel since 1938 when the Fascist dictatorship imposed racial laws.

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