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Italy's Interior Minister Resigns Over Controversial Comments - 2002-07-03

Italy's interior minister has resigned, following political outrage sparked by his unflattering description of an assassinated government consultant.

Interior Minister Claudio Scajola had been under fire for allegedly calling labor consultant Marco Biagi "a pain in the ass" who "was only interested in a renewal of his contract." The statement caused an outcry among Italy's political establishment.

Mr. Biagi was shot dead in March by the Red Brigade terrorists. They claimed the reason for the killing was that the consultant had been working on changes to the labor law that would have made it easier for employers to fire workers.

The Italian government and the unions have been at odds over the changes for months.

The interior minister had also been criticized for ending Mr. Biagi's police protection. Italian newspapers disclosed a number of letters last week in which the government consultant had asked the Italian authorities for more protection in the weeks before he was killed.

In the letters, he also revealed that he had received threats and feared for his life.

Mr. Scajola first offered his resignation Sunday, but Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi rejected it. The following day Mr. Scajola apologized to the Biagi family, saying his words had been taken out of context.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had come under intense pressure over his decision to keep the interior minister in office. In a letter of resignation to the prime minister, Mr. Scajola said that "the current moment in history requires that the national authority for public security be supported with the full trust of the majority in parliament and with the respect of the opposition."

In the letter, Mr. Scajola apologized again to Biagi's family for having involuntarily contributed to the renewal of their pain.

Mr. Scajola was one of Mr. Berlusconi's closest allies, and his resignation deals a serious blow to the government. Earlier this year, the foreign minister stepped down after a disagreement over the government's lukewarm reception of the euro currency.