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Italy's Bossi lashes out at gays and foreigners


In this story:

Prodi warns of right-wing danger

'Hands off the children, you pigs'

Biffi statements trigger heated debate


RELATED STORIES, SITES Downward pointing arrow


ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Italy's political climate has heated up considerably over the past few days as firebrand federalist Umberto Bossi stepped up his attacks on gays, and denounced his political enemies as Nazis and communists.

The verbal attacks against the "occult powers" in Brussels and perceived domestic enemies of "traditional" northern Italian culture have taken on xenophobic overtones, echoing pro-Nazi statements made by Austrian right-wing politician Joerg Haider.

Haider described members of Hitler's Nazi storm troops as "men of character" - a recent statement that caused international outrage and triggered swift worldwide condemnation.

However, Bossi has met no such reaction, even though he has referred to homosexuals as "pigs," and lectured Muslims to buy their own land for their mosques.

Prodi warns of right-wing danger

Romano Prodi, the Italian head of the European Commission, warned in a recent interview with the Catholic weekly Famiglia Cristiana that Bossi's Northern League poses "a serious danger that must be met with eyes wide open."

In the interview, Prodi describes the Northern League as part of a wider right-wing movement that has spread through Europe since the end of World War Two. The influx of immigrants - many of them illegal - has become a breeding ground for anti-foreigner attacks.

Italians are only just waking up to the reality that Italy has become an immigration country, Prodi says.

Bossi is clearly playing on people's fears of foreigners flooding the country. He has dropped his previous calls for an independent northern Italy in favour of a crusade against anything that he sees as "different from traditional" northern Italian culture.

Thus, he has lashed out against Muslims and homosexuals and has condemned adoption of black children.

'Hands off the children, you pigs'

During a Northern League convention in September, Bossi denounced homosexual couples wanting to adopt children.

"Something terrible is happening: European occult powers are trying to convince us that homosexual couples can adopt children. I believe that everybody is free to do what he or she wants, but we cannot ask the law to grant what nature denies," he told the party faithful.

Referring to those demands by homosexual couples, he said: "Hands off the children, you pigs."

Bossi also attacked the mayor of Rome, centre-left politician Francesco Rutelli, for adopting a South American child. "He should have a more solid family, with children whose origin are certain," Bossi said.

Muslims have also become a key target of anti-foreigner sentiment in northern Italy.

Two weeks ago, about 1,500 people took to the streets in Lodi, near Milan, to protest against a local council decision to allow the construction of a mosque for the region's Muslim community.

Demonstrators carried placards with slogans such as, "No mosque," "Let's save our traditions" and "On that land, there already is the urine of our pigs."

"The plot of land should be at the disposal of local people who pay taxes. If Muslims want a place to pray they should get their own land and pay for it," said the Northern League's provincial secretary, Maurizio Bosatra.

Biffi statements trigger heated debate

The Lodi demonstration came in the wake of a major political row triggered by Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, the archishop of Bologna, who said that the state should "favour the flux of Roman Catholic immigrants as a means to save and preserve the country's national identity."

The Muslim community in Italy is estimated at about 560,000 people, most of them immigrants. Apart from the three mosques in Rome, Milan and Catania, there are about 100 official places of worship, and some 200 unofficial ones, such as apartments, basements and garages.

Biffi says there a notable "differences" between the Muslim and Italian communities, posing problems for full integration.

He has pointed his finger at different food, different holidays, different roles for women (with a precise reference to polygamy, which is banned under Italian law), different ideas of what constitutes a family (marriages and divorces between Catholics and Muslims are often cause for problems in child custody cases) and the fundamentalist Muslim vision of religion overlapping with politics.

The cardinal's statements have prompted fierce debates among members of the ruling centre-left coalition as well as conservative and liberal-minded representatives of the Roman Catholic church.



RELATED STORIES:
Italy's Jews alarmed by rise in anti-Semitism
September 21, 2000
Italy blasts its neighbors over latest illegal immigrants
July 30, 2000

RELATED SITES:
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Northern League party

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