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Murder of Italian Government Official Sparks Fear of Political Terrorism - 2002-03-20


The killing of a top Italian government adviser has sparked fears of a resurgence of political terrorism in Italy.

The government adviser, Marco Biagi, was a leading Italian economist and consultant to Italy's Labor Minister Roberto Maroni. He was shot and killed Tuesday evening by two men on a motorbike outside his home in Bologna. Authorities say they believe the killing was politically motivated.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi called Mr. Biagi "a man of moderation and dialogue." He said his government will press ahead with labor reforms despite the murder. And, he urged labor unions to call off a general strike and resume talks with the government on the labor reforms.

Mr. Biagi was one of the authors of the labor reform proposals, which have led Italy's major unions to threaten a general strike next month. The proposed new labor law is intended to make it easier to fire workers in a country where millions hold lifetime positions.

Prime Minister Berlusconi's government has said the reforms are necessary to create more jobs and bring Italy into line with the rest of the European Union. But opposition parties and trade unions are strongly opposed.

Italy's Interior Minister Claudio Scajola called the assassination "a cowardly and bestial killing of a man who nurtured ideas of nobility and courage." He said the killers were "trying to undermine democracy in Italy."

The interior minister told Italy's parliament Wednesday that the killing "was an attempt to spread panic and anxiety, to suffocate every peaceful debate and the free exchange of ideas, to cancel dialogue and reason and to create a deep rift in Italian society."

Italy's European affairs minister, Rocco Buttiglione, said the killing was carried out by people who want a civil war. Piero Fassino, the leader of the Left Democrats, Italy's largest opposition party, strongly condemned the assassination.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the killing of Mr. Biagi. But investigators said they believe it may have been carried out by the same branch of the militant leftist Red Brigades group that killed another senior labor ministry adviser in 1999.

The Red Brigades were responsible for political violence in Italy in the 1970s and '80s which left hundreds dead. Their trademark, a five-pointed star, was found scratched on a wall near Mr. Biagi's home. But police were not immediately certain if the five-pointed star had appeared after the killing or had been there before.