Padania dream fades after Bossi's big flop

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The Independent Online
According to Umberto Bossi, his three-day march towards independence for northern Italy is proving an immense success. But the 500 people who made it to the inauguration on Friday, and the scant 2,000 at his rally in Cremona yesterday were far from the millions that his Northern League lieutenants had been predicting, and despite his big talk, Mr Bossi clearly knew it.

His failure to turn up in the morning for his symbolic boat ride down the Po was explained away by League organisers on the grounds that the river was low and the boats might have had to be abandoned. But in fact, it had every appearance of a fit of pique: only a very few thousand turned up for his rally - complete with half an hour of fireworks - in Turin the previous evening, and the Northern League leader was not happy about it.

As the scale of the fiasco sank in, Mr Bossi's invective grew more frenetic. Under the kind of cloudless blue skies he must have been praying for to bring out the crowds, he turned on journalists at the small gathering in Cremona. They were a rabble sent by Rome to falsify the size of his independence festivities, he screamed.

In Boretto, where a healthier crowd of about 5,000 turned out, it was the state itself which took the brunt of his anger. He admitted his campaign was against the law, but said: "We are not in the field of law here. We are in the field of force. The moment has come at which the state must be annihilated." This will give further ammunition to critics who accuse him of flirting with fascism.

Mr Bossi was obviously still smarting over the Turin flop yesterday. "There were 80,000 of us there," he said defiantly, ignoring the police estimate of 4,000. He blamed one or two flare-ups the previous night on "thugs sent from Rome".

As the stakes rise, he has also stepped up the mystico-religious talk which has marked his speeches in the run-up to "secession". "Remember, wherever you are, I will be there alongside you," he told the enraptured group of League diehards who made it to the source of the Po on Friday.

League organisers will now be looking to today's grand finale in Venice to make up for the poor showing along the banks of the Po. There, "Umbotone" will dribble a phial of water taken from the source of the Po at four cardinal points in the lagoon before reading the declaration of independence of the "Federal Republic of Padania".

But although the League is expecting a million people for the event, Venetian authorities are setting their sights much lower: they have asked locals to stay indoors if any more than 10,000leghisti turn up. After that, they have threatened to take "all necessary measures", which could prove a blessing for Mr Bossi. A town council order to close road and rail links with the mainland might prove the best explanation for a miserable turnout in the city he wants to make the capital of Padania.