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ITALY: Prime Minister Expects 100,000 Protestors at G-8 Summit

by Alessandra StanleyNew York Times
June 19th, 2001

ROME, June 18 -- Worried about a repetition in Italy of the violent protests that occurred at a European Union meeting in Sweden last weekend, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said today that he wanted to open a dialogue with demonstrators who are planning to march at the Group of 8 summit meeting in Genoa next month.

In a maiden speech before the Italian Parliament to present the goals of his new government, the prime minister also had to deal with a continuing debate about his extensive media holdings. A conflict-of- interest debate that began after his speech will end with a confidence vote in the Senate on Wednesday.

But today, Mr. Berlusconi seemed more preoccupied with how his government would deal with the next major international meeting when more than 100,000 anti-globalization demonstrators are expected to converge on the medieval port city.

Mr. Berlusconi, like other leaders, was alarmed by fierce clashes between anti-globalization demonstrators and the riot police in Goteborg, Sweden, last week. Concerned that something similar or worse could happen when he plays host to President Bush and other world leaders on July 20-22, he met with his interior minister on Saturday to review security measures.

Clearly worried that his government might be blamed for any violence in Genoa, Mr. Berlusconi went on the offensive, telling reporters that any problems there would be "the responsibility of the preceding governments." Genoa was selected as the site for the meeting in 1999, when Massimo D'Alema was prime minister. But when the issue came up for a vote in Parliament last year, Mr. Berlusconi's center-right opposition also voted in favor of Genoa.

Although Mr. Berlusconi wants to open a dialogue with the protesters, few expect him to be able to soften their attitudes. "No dialogue, no participation in fake negotiating tables," Luca Casarini, a leader of an Italian anti-globalization group, said today in the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera. "After Seattle, the point is to block the meetings, not tame them."

Even inside Parliament, there were signs of defiance. Hard-line Italian Communists view the summit meeting as an elitist club that undermines the United Nations General Assembly. As Mr. Berlusconi spoke, a few Communist lawmakers held up red signs saying, "No to the G-8."

Members of Parliament also reacted to the prime minister's defiant tone in announcing a draft law to resolve potential conflicts of interest involving his media companies.

"The situation I find myself in was well known to the 18 million Italians who voted for me," said Mr. Berlusconi, a conservative media tycoon who owns Italy's three largest television networks. He said he would propose a law before the summer recess, but added, "My history as a communications entrepreneur and my personal conscience permit no one to suspect that my institutional goals would be contrary to the common good."

That phrase drew scattered applause, and some hissing.

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