Pandemonium on the Po in Padania

Anne Hanley Pian Del Re
Friday 13 September 1996 23:02 BST

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Louise Thomas

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Umberto Bossi, the Northern League leader, had a crowd of 500 people in raptures last night when he shouted: "All for one, and one for all" as he began three days of independence rallies for northern Italy. "We've saved our culture from being annihilated at the last minute," he said shortly after taking a phial of water from the source of the Po. "Our heart beats in Padania, it doesn't beat in Rome. Padanians must be the bosses in their own region."

Mr Bossi's three-day pilgrimage ends tomorrow, when he declares independence for Italy's industrialised northern regions. In his speech yesterday he said his secessionist drive was sanctioned "not only by international law but by our own Padanian consciousness. We're one great people, geographically but also spiritually."

Flares were lit as he filled his phial with Po water, which will be emptied out into the Venetian lagoon tomorrow. The league is hoping for crowds of several million at celebrations at dozens of points along the river. Citizens of the new "republic" will be asked to burn television licences to symbolise their break with Rome.

Yesterday some people made their way up the mountain road to Pian Del Re, where the Po bubbles out of the side of Monte Viso, to see Mr Bossi siphoning off the symbolic liquid.

There was pandemonium as cars flying league flags and hooting wound their way over freshly painted road markings reading "Long live Padania" and "Bossi is God". On each car aerial was a pink rosette - traditionally hung on Italian front doors to announce the birth of a girl.

At Crissolo, where vehicles were stopped and the road barred, Bossi followers were in festive mood as they paid out 8,000 lire - hard-currency Italian ones, not the Padanian ones already in circulation - to be ferried uphill for the rally. Hotel keepers, under assault from hundreds of journalists from all over the globe, were not so jolly, watching rugby scrums forming around the few telephones.

In preparation for the Big Three Days, Mr Bossi on Thursday evening got around to expelling the one-time league sweetheart Irene Pivetti from the party. Ms Pivetti, a former speaker of the Lower House, was ejected from the once- federalist party for questioning the secessionist line which Mr Bossi has imposed.

With excitement growing in Padania-to-be, staider political powers in Rome showed growing nervousness at the thought of what the Padanian weekend might hold. "Unity" was on everyone's lips there, not to mention in Switzerland where Italy's president, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, wound up his three-day visit yesterday. He praised Switzerland's federation, lauding it as a possible model for an Italy of the future.

But Mr Bossi has other ideas. Tomorrow's declaration, he says, will put Italy's wealthy and much-aggrieved north in a stronger bargaining position. Within a year, he predicted, Padania would have its own currency, police and magistrature.

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