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Schroeder Demands Apology Following Berlusconi 'Nazi' Comment - 2003-07-03


Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are to speak by telephone, as pressure mounts on the Italian leader to apologize for suggesting that a German legislator should be cast as a Nazi concentration camp guard in a motion picture.

German Chancellor Schroeder stood before the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, and demanded that Mr. Berlusconi make a formal apology for his remarks.

"I would like to ask the house to say that this comparison has been, in form and in content, completely unacceptable to us… and I expect that the Italian prime minister … will … apologize for this unacceptable comparison that he has made," said Mr. Schroeder.

But Mr. Berlusconi has shown no signs of apologizing for the remarks, which marred his debut before the European Parliament on Wednesday as the chairman of the European Union. Italy assumed the EU rotating presidency Tuesday.

The Italian leader accused Italy's center-left opposition of inspiring the criticism he heard from several members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, as he outlined Italy's priorities for its stewardship of the union.

One of those critics was German Social Democrat Martin Schulz, who denounced Mr. Berlusconi for using an immunity law to avoid bribery charges in an Italian court. He also chided the Italian leader over a perceived conflict of interest between Mr. Berlusconi's ownership of most of Italy's private television stations and his job as prime minister.

That led to Mr. Berlusconi's outburst and his suggestion that the German lawmaker play the role of a concentration camp guard, a remark that has been widely condemned in the European media as reopening past wounds and calling into question the Italian leader's suitability to represent Europe.

European Parliament leaders have failed to agree on whether they, too, should demand an apology from Mr. Berlusconi. But Enrique Baron Crespo, who heads the socialist bloc within the assembly, says it is imperative for the Italian leader to apologize, so his semester in the EU presidency does not become a failure.

"We have a lot of things to do, and we still have hopes that the Italian presidency that, by tradition, is a very pro-European one, will be able to overcome this situation," he said. "So, we think that, with formal apologies, we can work and try to change the unpredictable behavior of the Italian prime minister."

The Italian government says Mr. Schulz' criticism offended Mr. Berlusconi. But it clearly wants to stifle the furor caused by Mr. Berlusconi's remark as soon as possible.

Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini, whose own party arose out of the ashes of Italy's Fascist movement, says Mr. Schulz provoked Mr. Berlusconi, but he thinks Mr. Berlusconi should apologize.

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