Italian parliament looks to the future: Amato tells MPs he is ready to resign as debate starts on referendum in which nation voted for cleaner democracy

GIULIANO AMATO, the Prime Minister, yesterday opened the parliamentary debate on Italy's future government saying that the nation had called in last weekend's referendum for an 'authentic change of regime'. He said he would 'draw the consequences' - meaning resign - at the end of the debate today.

The referendum results - 82.7 per cent in favour of a new, majority electoral system - was 'too deep a break' with the past, he told the Chamber of Deputies. 'There must be a sign of discontinuity.' Politicians must recreate ties again with civil society.

The debate is being held at the urging of President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro so that the various parties will be obliged to state publicly their ideas of how the next government should look. On the basis of their statements and other consultations he will ask someone to form a government whose principal task will be to implement the electoral reforms clearly demanded by the country. At present these ideas appear to vary wildly.

Mr Amato told the Chamber the nation had 'demanded a cleaner democracy, which functions, is efficient and based on a clear and stable majority'. It was necessary, he said amid a buzz of protest, to kill off a '70-year-old model of the party-state' that had been started by the fascists and inherited by the post-war democratic republic, with the difference that it had several parties instead of one. Politicians must 're-absorb' the mood of protest in the country in a democracy where alternation of parties in power is no longer blocked. They must form larger groupings which compete with each other to govern.

As he spoke the scandals and political disintegration brought on by the old discredited system continued unabated. Mr Amato's Defence Minister, Salvo Ando, came under suspicion for electoral deals with the Mafia in his constituency of Catania as local magistrates prepared a request for parliament's authorisation to prosecute him for violating electoral laws. He was the seventh minister in Mr Amato's cabinet to be touched by the country's political corruption and Mafia scandals.

The allegations, made by Mafia pentiti or supergrasses, were 'the act of rogues' he said and vowed to sue the originators for damages.

At the same time Giulio Andreotti, seven times prime minister, defended himself vigorously before the Senate immunity commission against a third batch of allegations that he connived with the Mafia, including alleged testimony that he met Salvatore Riina, the Mafia's alleged boss of all bosses, in 1988 when he was prime minister and exchanged a kiss of greeting.

He expressed 'astonishment' and 'rage' at the allegations by Riina's former driver, Baldassare Di Maggio, which he said were incredible. 'I cannot move without my escort and I have continual protection even at night. Here I supposedly went walking on my own through Palermo in broad daylight . . . to meet a fugitive and a man under house arrest.' he said.

Most Italian newspapers yesterday splashed the story of 'The Kiss' over their front pages and gave prominence to Di Maggio's statement that the embrace was a 'sign of respect'.

Mr Andreotti, now a Christian Democrat life senator, told the panel that he was the victim of a lynching campaign. 'There must be laws in Italy that safeguard people's honour and unmask the butchery of truth,' he said.

The city of Rome celebrated its 2,746th official birthday by joining the long list of towns and cities under the control of government commissars because the political parties were no longer able to produce viable administrations. Rome's last administration collapsed after little more than two weeks when five councillors were arrested and two put under investigation in corruption scandals.

Sergio Restelli, secretary to the former Socialist justice minister Claudio Martelli, was arrested on charges of particularly serious corruption and violating the law on party financing. Mr Martelli, who has since left the Socialists, was served a notification - his third - that he was under investigation for the same offences.

Eighteen arrest warrants were issued yesterday for top Mafia bosses and others in connection with the assassination of the Supreme Court prosecutor, Antonio Scopelliti, who was ambushed on a road in Calabria in 1991. The murder, according to the magistrates, was carried out by the Calabrian Mafia, the 'Ndrangheta, on commission for the top Sicilian Mafia bosses. The point was to hold up a maxi-trial of top mafiosi so that the bosses' legal terms of detention would expire and they would be freed. Most of the alleged culprits, including Riina, are already in jail on other charges. Three are in hiding.

(Photograph omitted)

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