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Berlusconi in arts censorship row

Of the caricatures, Berlusconi said:
Of the caricatures, Berlusconi said: "Of course they don't please me"  

ROME, Italy -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been accused of censoring a play said to contain caricatures of him and his government.

At the centre of the controversy is a production of ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes' comedy "The Frogs."

Renowned director Luca Ronconi claims two officials from Berlusconi's Forza Italia party exerted pressure on him to remove three large caricatures of the prime minister and two other government ministers from the set.

Ronconi said he was pressured to take the caricature props off stage before Saturday's opening of the play in Syracuse, Sicily.

"This is about a real case of censorship," Ronconi told Il Messaggero daily newspaper in an interview published on Monday.

"Democracy and censorship cannot co-exist. I would like to have artistic adversaries, not political ones."

But Berlusconi said on Monday: "At Syracuse, the ancient drama has turned into a comedy of errors.

"The government, the whole government, doesn't even know what censorship is."

Artists and opposition politicians have rallied to Ronconi's side, claiming the incident provides fresh evidence the government is trying to flex its media muscles.

Berlusconi's family owns Italy's biggest private media empire and the government he currently oversees controls the main RAI television network and its three channels.

Ronconi said the Forza officials told him he should remove the caricatures, seen by the critics as an allusion to tyrants and a corrupt ruling class, since the government sponsored his theatre and the show.

Berlusconi added: "Of course they don't please me, but art has the right to choose -- and miss -- its targets."

It is the second such accusation of interference in the arts levelled against Berlusconi's coalition in as many days.

Italian film maker Marco Giusti said on Sunday that the government had tried to suppress his documentary about alleged police brutality at last year's Genoa G8 summit where one protester was shot dead by a policeman.

"Whatever format we have tried to show the pictures in, on film or television, they have been blocked in one way or another," Giusti told Reuters during the film festival in Cannes, France.


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