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This is San Gimignano

San Gimignano rises on a hill (334m high) dominating the Elsa Valley with its towers. Once the seat of a small Etruscan village of the Hellenistic period (200-300 BC) it began its life as a town in the 10th century taking its name from the Holy Bishop of Modena, St. Gimignano, who is said to have saved the village from the barbarian hordes. The town increased in wealth and developed greatly during the Middle Ages thanks to the "Via Francigena" the trading and pilgrim's route that crossed it. Such prosperity lead to the flourishing of works of art to adorn the churches and monasteries. In 1199 it became a free municipality and fought against the Bishops of Volterra and the surrounding municipalities. Due to internal power struggles it eventually divided into two factions one headed by the Ardinghelli family (Guelphs) and the other by the Salvucci family (Ghibellines). On the 8th May 1300 Dante Alighieri came to San Gimignano as the Ambassador of the Guelph League in Tuscany. In 1348 San Gimignano's population was drastically reduced by the Black Death Plague throwing the city into a serious crisis which eventually led to its submission to Florence in 1353. In the following centuries San Gimignano overcame its decline and isolation when its beauty and cultural importance together with its agricultural heritage were rediscovered. The construction of the towers dates back to the 11th and 13th centuries. The architecture of the city was influenced by Pisa, Siena and Florence. There are 14th century paintings of the Sienese School to be seen and 15th century paintings of the Florentine

San Gimignano delle belle Torri" is situated in Tuscany, 56 km south of Florence. It served as an important relay point for pilgrims on the Via Francigena to and from Rome. The patrician families, who controlled the city, built some 72 tower-houses (up to 50m high) as symbols of their wealth and power. Only 14 have survived but San Gimignano has retained its feudal atmosphere and appearance. The city also contains masterpieces of 14th and 15th-century Italian art.

San Gimignano is surrounded by gently-rolling country side dotted with vines and olive tree. Its 14 grey stone towers set on a hiltop are enclosed within an outer wall including five gates. It has all the charm of a small medieval town, built mainly of brick, and has been amazingly well preserved. castellito scani


The Blairs on Holiday

[This is the villa on the opposite hill to where Blair stayed]


Noblemans Villa with Tight security

"The family is staying at the 50-room villa owned by Prince Girolamo Strozzi, a newspaper proprietor and law professor at Florence University. The house, outside San Gimignano, has a pool and gardens. The security is tight as more than 100 uniformed and plain-clothed police are on duty. Mr Blair also faced criticism for using the Royal jet to travel for his holiday.
bbc-Blairs face the cameras

"That day me and my friend Pablo went to the summer holiday house of Tony Blair, in the Villa Cusona, just between San Gimignano and Tavarnelle. We were dreaming the meeting: shaking his hand and knowing his childrens, explaining him how we live here etc. etc. It was a Sunday afternoon we were going to San Gimignano and had the great idea to climb over the hill where Villa Cusona is to meet Tony Blair the Great Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

It seemed very easy: some words to his body guard and a fast hello to their boss. Well ... how to reach villa Cusona ?? This is a secret, but not for us. There is a road -a private road indeed- and nobody is allowed to go trough it but only Blair.

We were on a Wolksvagen Polo it was hot in a normal July day. "Our ice-cream can wait until we say hello to Tony" were my words to Pablo.

Well, we climbed over the hill, trough the forbidden road (a very small ones indeed), we arrived just in front of the gate of the Villa.

The first surprise was a car of the Italian Police and few seconds later four policeman and a police jeep running towards us.

No matter of speaking about our visit to the agent surprised we were there in a forbidden road. Tony was playing tennis. We had to come back to San Gimignano.

Very disappointed. Very sad. We needed some referential points to have the power to ask. And it was not sufficient I wanted to write about the meeting on my web pages.

Next year. If Tony Blair come back I will dare to ask to meet him ! Why not, my English is not so bad !! "

"...It may be called Chiantishire, but Tuscany, the real Tuscany, is no bucolic shire. It has chronic social problems, made all the worse by recent immigration from the Balkans. Welfare is patchy, environmentalism is dire, civic probity is dubious. And, oh yes, almost everyone smokes. A lot. By rights it should be more popular with libertarians than with right-on Islingtonians such as the Blairs and Chris Smith. The landscape may be dotted with cedar trees, and the night air may whistle with crickets, but this is a poor place. The odd thing is that the north European visitors, usually people with such finely tuned social consciences, rarely seem to realise.
But among locals the left is strong in Tuscany - hence the threats to mount protests at Blair's presence next week. It makes sense when you look beyond the tourist attractions and consider local living standards. During the Kosovo war there was much feeling against the Nato action, partly out of traditional anti-American feeling, partly because they realised that it would only increase the number of displaced people coming on to the black market workforce, which currently accounts for just under 20 per cent of all jobs. To these people, Blair's hawkishness looked more like sycophancy to Uncle Sam...."
The Tuscan holiday: Chiantishire may be the new Labour idyll of choice but it has protection rackets, tax avoidance and no minimum wage.


The Birth of a new British Italian Gladio axis?

Secret cabinet meetings? In Italy? in 1996? before he was Prime Minister?

August 23, 1996 - "...Unfortunately, before I have time to collect my thoughts and engage the Master in any meaningful discussion, he and Cherie make abrupt apologies and disappear between two torre. "See you back in the smoke," floats on the breeze. So here we are with Denis who explains that he and his family normally go to the Peak District, but this year decided on a "small detour". He loves the place, but is disconcerted that wherever he goes in Tuscany, he seems to bump into "Tony". Nor is he the only one, he says. Sightings have also been made of Geoff Hoon, Angela Eagle,John Battle, and several other MPs, all vacationing in this part of Italy. Odd."

The devil rides out - a Tory MP meets Tony Blair in Tuscany, ItalyCharles Lynton - new statesmen articles:

Blairs pop in on Berlusconi

(Filed: 17/08/2004) Tony Blair and his wife Cherie interrupted their Tuscan holiday yesterday to travel to Sardinia as guests at the summer home of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister.

After flying to the island on a private aircraft the Blairs were taken by helicopter to the premier's estate of Villa Certosa on the Costa Smeralda for a visit expected to last 24 hours. The Blairs are due to return to Tuscany today to resume their holiday near San Gimignano as guests of Prince Girolamo Strozzi. Three of the Blair children are understood to have remained in Tuscany. - telegraph.co.uk

About those Italian Holidays, Mr Blair...

"...In 1997 the Blairs stayed with Geoffrey Robinson at Il Mucchio. Last year they were entertained by Prince Girolamo Guicciardini Strozzi, chatelain of a stately pad at Cusona. The prince did the decent thing and moved into the stable block for the duration of his esteemed guests' visit. For this year's month-long sojourn, Toni and la bella Cherie have persuaded themselves to accept hospitality from a fellow tribune of the oppressed. Vannino Chiti, a local powerbroker and member of the Party of the Democratic Left, the PDS (Italy's former communist party), has passed them the keys of the Villa del Gombo..."


see:Mr Blair goes on Holiday

Silvio Berlusconi

Berlusconi (photo) not only exercises control over RAI as prime minister, but his family owns a vast media empire, including three private television channels. He is said to effectively control 90 percent of the Italian media. As of Wednesday, Berlusconi is Italy's longest-serving prime minister since World War II. Head of Italian TV Quits over Government Interference

Quoting the man, the moron, the fascist

On Mussolini:

"Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile."

In the wake of 11 September:

"We must be aware of the superiority of our civilisation, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and - in contrast with Islamic countries - respect for religious and political rights, a system that has as its value understanding of diversity and tolerance...

"The West will continue to conquer peoples, even if it means a confrontation with another civilisation, Islam, firmly entrenched where it was 1,400 years ago."

His response to worldwide condemnation of the above speech:

"They have tried to hang me on an isolated word, taken out of context from my whole speech."

"I did not say anything against the Islamic civilisation... It's the work of some people in the Italian leftist press who wanted to tarnish my image and destroy my long-standing relations with Arabs and Muslims"

A joke about Aids told by Mr Berlusconi:

An Aids patient asks his doctor whether the sand treatment prescribed him will do any good. "No," the doctor replies, "but you will get accustomed to living under the earth."

His response to critics who said the joke was offensive:

"They have lost their minds; they really have come to the end of the line, indeed they have gone beyond it. I would advise them, too, to undergo sand treatment..."

more quotes

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi formed Italy's 59th post-World War II government in June 2001; a Forza Italia [Go Italy] member, Claudio Scajola, was appointed Interior Minister, while the coalition party leader Umberto Bossi of the Northern League was named minister of reform and devolution. Italy's National Alliance party, is another of the parties in the Berlusconi coalition

So, Like the Germans, who received a Nazi commendant jibe
while Berlusconi was heading the EU...
Does Blair seek to distance himself from this obvious FASCIST?

er...not really...

Holiday Pals Berlusconi, Blair Cement Ties

ROME - With a bandanna on his head and a grin on his cheeks, Italy's flamboyant Premier Silvio Berlusconi has been playing vacation host to Britain's Tony Blair in Sardinia, an unlikely holiday coupling that highlights an Italian-British alliance bolstered by the Iraq war.

Despite lighthearted public scenes, serious aims lie behind the trip, which affirms Italy and Britain as allies standing shoulder-to-shoulder in Iraq. Berlusconi and Blair held wide-ranging talks Tuesday, promising commitment to "a future of peace for the Iraqi people."

President Bush spoke to both leaders by phone for about 10 minutes Tuesday about Iraq and the ongoing National Conference there, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said.

The two-day visit to Berlusconi's villa on the Emerald Coast began on a jovial note Monday with a motorboat ride, a performance of Neapolitan and classical music at an amphitheater on Berlusconi's estate, and a dinner featuring seafood risotto, marinated tuna and Sardinia's renowned white wines.

A small fireworks display lit up the skies spelling out "Viva Tony." source

Blair's five-a-side 'friendly' tackle leaves Berlusconi hobbling off to hospital

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, has discovered the high price of clashing with Tony Blair: he has been forced to seek hospital treatment for a leg injury sustained when his British counterpart "ran into" him during a five-a-side football match earlier this month. source

Bomb found near Blair's holiday home

POLICE defused a bomb yesterday in a Sardinian coastal town near where Tony Blair had been enjoying the hospitality of the Italian premier, Silvio Berlusconi, only hours earlier.

Police and bomb disposal experts swarmed throughout the grounds of Mr Berlusconi?s holiday home after a little-known group telephoned a bomb warning to a newspaper.

However, the Prime Minister and his wife, Cherie, had left the villa by the time the device was defused.

According to reports in Sardinia, the bomb, which contained dynamite, had been designed to explode inside a bin at 4:30am yesterday.

The alert was raised after a caller claiming to be from the Proletarian Groups for Communism phoned a warning to the island?s Unione Sarda newspaper late on Tuesday night to claim that the organisation had planted two bombs.

Security experts said the group had exposed flaws in the Italian security operation, but that it had posed little threat to Mr and Mrs Blair.

"On this occasion it appears the bomb was intended to provoke publicity and not to maim as it was timed to go off in the middle of the night," one expert said. The scotsman

more of Blairs Holiday escapades...

Phony Tony's Cronies

I wanted to move on to the fact of the Blairs getting their air fares paid for by tacking on some government business at the end of holidays. I was then going to consider the peculiar business of Cherie, with her supermarket sweep round an Australian store, emerging with more than £2,000 worth of free stuff. Did she pay the amount over £140 when she returned to England? And while we're on the subject, when she has Carole Caplin blag free designer dresses for her, are those gifts? In which case, again, does she pay the excess? Or do they fall into a magical new category, a Cherie-allowance? There is, unfortunately, too much corruption and not enough space. These two go beyond straight meanness. Their behaviour is grabby and embarrassing, and contravenes etiquette. It is also immoral; and if someone had described this behaviour 10 years ago, we would have said, well, from a Tory, just about. From a Liberal, improbable - but from the Labour party leader, absolutely no way. This Sugar Hill holiday can join all the other events of the past eight months - things you'd never have credited until they unfolded before your eyes. It's a busman's holiday, in effect. A very posh one.

Mutuality with Monica.


Blairs visit for Holiday, mass? or inspiration?

"...Mr. Blair watched the spectacle [of the bare-back horse race in Siena], he and his family attended Mass in the 16th century chapel of San Biagio on the estate of Prince Girolamo Strozzi near San Gimignano. Fr. Brain Lowry, an Augustinian from Philadelphia who for some years has been based in the Tuscan town, celebrated the Mass, which was in honour of the Assumption. During the service, at which Mr. and Mrs. Blair were present but which one of their three children was understood to have not attended, the Prime Minister's daughter Kathryn read the Gospel. Nuns from the Order of Santa Marta based at the Hospital of Poggibansi sang choir music. The chapel, situated close to the Prince's pheasant-rearing operations on his estate, belongs to his family. But although it was once open to the public is it now only used for private occasions. Fr. Lowry, 55, later talked at length with the Blairs.

The family is understood to have especially asked after his colleague, Fr. Jim Wenzel, 49, who has returned to Boston. Fr. Wenzel had regularly celebrated Mass for the Blairs each summer since they began coming to the San Gimignano area in the summer of 1996.

During their week-long stay with the Prince, the Blairs for the first time shared the same Renaissance villa as their hosts. The Strozzis, who first met the Blairs for an afternoon at their estate in Cuspna two summers ago, gave their 50 room house to them entirely last summer, moving to a flat over their old stables.

This year however the prince and his family stayed on the top floor of the 50-room residence which they have just had restored. The Blairs are understood to have stayed below in the more noble quarters. On the second evening of their stay in San Gimignano, the Blairs were wined and dined by Tuscany's "wine nobility" at the castle in Chianti Cassico country belonging to the Prince's friend Gianni Zonin, one of Italy's biggest wine producers. Altogether there were 100 guests in the castle courtyard, including the Marchesa Tiziana de Frescobaldi, niece of the Prince of Wales's friend the Marchesa Bona Frescobaldi. Two evenings before their departure for France last Saturday the Blairs had dinner with their hosts and San Gimignano's former mayor Franco Nencioni. On their last evening, the Prince threw a party for 50 people. [The Catholic Herald August 27, 1999,]


"Tuscany has now even overtaken Provence in the amount of gush published about it in Britain. The myth of a simple peasant culture set in a Renaissance landscape of cypresses and olive groves kissed by the sun seems to be irresistible to the armchair traveller. It is tinged by jealousy of those, like Tony Blair, who actually experience it on a regular basis. The Prime Minister is especially envied, as he is fawned upon by the bigwigs of the region and regularly enjoys the hospitality of a rich Tuscan aristocrat with the immensely grand name of Prince Girolamo Giucciardini-Strozzi, a direct descendant of the great Francesco Guicciardini, who wrote the first history of Italy in the early 16th century. "
MSN slate


A brief history of the Strozzi family

The Strozzi family grew rich through commerce and took an active part in the government of Florence after the 13th century. In the fifteenth century, the Strozzi strongly opposed the Medici rule of Florence and were exiled when Cosimo de' Medici seized power in 1434.

At an early date the family divided into several branches. Palla Strozzi, c.1373-1462, a politician and ardent humanist, furthered Greek studies in Florence and Padua. Filippo Strozzi, 1428-91, son of Matteo Strozzi, gained wealth and influence in Naples, and returned to Florence in 1466.

His son Filippo Strozzi, 1489-1538, married a granddaughter of Lorenzo de' Medici; he was first friendly to the Medici, then became a staunch opponent. He led Florentine exiles against Cosimo I de' Medici, was captured, and died in prison.

His son Leone Strozzi, 15-1554, first entered the Order of Malta and later became an admiral in the French service. He distinguished himself in wars against Spain and England.

Another son of Filippo, Piero Strozzi, d. 1558, a violent enemy of the Medici, fought for the French in the Italian Wars and was made a marshal of France. He took part in the French siege of Calais (1557).

Filippo Strozzi, 1541-82, was also in the French service. He was captured and killed by the Spanish in a naval battle off the Azores.


Doesn't it seem a little odd that the Prime Minister
should spend every year in Tuscany?
These Properties are Owned by magnates, noblemen and royalty.
I wonder what kind of plans could have been hatched
in an area which just so happens to be the birthplace of Fascism
whilst staying in a villa owned by the nobility that befriended & inspired Macchiavelli

"The dedication is to Lorenzo Strozzi, one of Machiavelli's Florentine friends. M states that the common view that there is an unbridgeable separation between civil and military affairs is wrong. The ancients saw no such separation. There in fact is a close interrelationship between the two. Even the best civil ordinances require the backing of military power for their effectiveness. Military power lies at the base of all civil order, internal as well as external.

(This key observation is discussed at greater length in Prince and Discourses. He derives it primarily from Xenophon. Lenin and other communist commentators on Clausewitz are always pointing out that he missed this critical point when remarking on the relationship of politics and war, but do not give M credit for preceding Clausewitz let alone for having developed the even more valid proposition that it is "Politics that is war, but conducted by other means.") In order to achieve the hoped for revival of Italian fortunes it will be necessary to have a great revival of discipline."
The art of war

Machiavelli on war

PM meets Italian Prime Minister

Prime Ministers Blair and Berlusconi today confirmed the 'excellent relationship' that exists between the UK and Italy in a summit in London.

Mr Blair said the talks today were "amicable, productive and constructive".

"I really do not think the relationship between Britain and Italy has ever been stronger," he said at a press conference following the meeting.

"I am delighted at the cooperation we have across a whole range of issues." - Number 10 press release


2005: Blair in tuscany: deciding on the fate of the EU superstate for his minions

Question raised about Europe's future, says Blair

30.05.2005 The British prime minister has said that France's strong rejection of the EU constitution raises a profound question about the future of Europe and its economy.

Speaking from Tuscany where he is on holiday, the UK Press Agency (PA) reported Tony Blair as saying "underneath all this there is a more profound question, which is about the future of Europe, and, in particular, the future of the European economy and how we deal with the modern questions of globalisation and technological change".

But Mr Blair did not indicate whether his country would hold a referendum, after much speculation in Brussels about whether France's Non has killed the constitution outright.

Instead, he called for a period of reflection. - By Honor Mahony [euobserver.com]


For Queen & Country:

Princes to Create States, Republics to Maintain Them.

To many readers, Machiavelli is best known as the author of The Prince, and hence thought of as an advocate of absolutism. But such an in interpretation captures only half of Machiavelli's political thought. In his Discourses, Machiavelli makes clear that the authority of an absolute monarch is appropriate to some circumstances - the conquest of states, or their total revolution - but in the long run, only republican government can generate security and prosperity:

"And if princes are superior to populaces in drawing up laws, codes of civic life, statutes, and new institutions, the populace is so superior in sustaining what has been instituted that it indubitably adds to the glory of those who have instituted them."

Gladio - NATO - CIA - guiding fascism for political gain

'You had to attack civilians, the people, women children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game,' he said. 'The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people, the Italian public, to turn to the State to ask for greater security. This is the political logic that lies behind all the massacres and the bombings which remain unpunished, because the State cannot convict itself or declare itself responsible for what happened.'

sworn testimony by Gladio agent Vincenzo Vinciguerra - operation Gladio

Towers of power

San Gimignano is known as the Medieval Manhattan
for its many towers.

These two seem to be the medieval WTC... It is known as the "Ancient Metropolis" as there are lots of towers remaining. Also Tony Blair takes his holiday there every year.

lots of photos

galleria organic

Arthur Wyatt

Towers of Power

L'affaire Berlusconi

For those of you who don't live here and who are not au fait with the latest scandal to wash like a tide of sewage over the political class of this benighted nation, I'll try to sum it up as succinctly as possible.

Tessa Jowell, Culture Secretary is married to David Mills, a sleazy lawyer who allegedly took a £344,000 bribe from Berlusconi (a former client/associate), the PM of Italy in exchange for testimony that would help exonerate Berlusconi from corruption charges he is facing.

So first the bribe, sorry, the 'gift', went through around half a dozen different bank accounts/companies scattered around the planet before ending up in the UK. But how to get it into the grasping hands of Jowell's husband? They (or, according to Mills, just him) decide to take a second mortgage out on their north London house for £400,000, pocket the cash and use the bribe, sorry, 'gift', money to pay off the loan.

Brilliant except the Italian lawyers are not only investigating Berlusconi but also Jowell's sleazy lawyer-husband and they leak a bunch of incriminating documents to the press about Mills' activities including a written admission by Mills' that he had lied like crazy to try and get Berlusconi off the hook.

Mills calls the 344,000 big ones a "gift" and says that he only described it as a bribe in order to "get tax advice" from his accountants. Believe that and you'll also believe the following 'explanation' of the original letter he wrote as sounding

"completely ridiculous", adding: "It's excruciating - you couldn't make it up."

The problem is, he did. Prosecutors in Milan allege the payment was to ensure Mr Mills kept quiet during two Berlusconi corruption trials.

In part, the original letter to his accountants said

"I kept in close touch with the B[erlusconi] people... they also knew quite how much the way in which I had been able to give my evidence (I told no lies, but I turned some very tricky corners, to put it mildly) had kept Mr B out of a great deal of trouble I would have landed him in if I had said all I knew." 'Jowell's husband in gift row,' February 19, 2006. [Guardian story]

(As a 'media' aside, the BBC claims to have published the full text of this letter, but this and other sections are missing from the BBC story. Go figure. See 'Full text: David Mills' letter', 27 February, 2006. [BBC story] and compare to the Guardian story above)

When the story broke, Jowell's problem was that she had show that she had no involvement with her hubby's dirty dealings as the house is in both their names. Questions of conflict of interest arose.

She maintains that she signed documents on the mortgage but apparently without asking her old man where the £344,000 came from. One has to imagine them sitting around and her old man slips her a bunch of documents and casually asks her to put her John Hancock on them, 'Sure, she says, no problem, where do I sign?'. No questions asked. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'ships passing in the night'. Under government rules, ministers should declare any "gifts" made to their spouses, to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest.

It emerged that Mr Mills regularly took it upon himself to inform the permanent secretary at the DCMS of changes in his business positions, including his range of up to 60 directorships.

He did not, however, think it necessary to inform civil servants of the mortgage he took out jointly with his wife that was then swiftly paid back by cash from an offshore trust.

The couple took out five separate mortgages on their home in what looks like a device to raise cash quickly to capitalise on investment opportunities. [guardian story]

Last week, in an effort to clear Jowell's name, she was 'investigated' (I use the word extremely loosely) by the Cabinet secretary who then handed over his 'investigation' to Blair, who cleared her of any wrong-doing. Talk about the fox guarding the hen-house!

The Ministerial Code, for what it's worth, says in part

"Ministers are personally responsible for deciding how to act and conduct themselves in the light of the Code and for justifying their actions and conduct in Parliament. The Code is not a rulebook and nor is it the role of the Secretary to the Cabinet or other officials to enforce it or to investigate Ministers although they may provide Ministers with private advice on matters which it covers".

The so-called code is a complete farce. The Cabinet secretary had around 24 hours to 'investigate' l'affaire Berlusconi. Imagine trying to track the movements of money through a slew of front companies, that experienced forensic accountants would be hard-pressed to follow and then to link it to Jowells' knowledge or lack thereof, of where the money came from and whether she knew about it.

But not surprisingly, the dirt would not wash off Jowell, so this weekend, Jowell and her hubby decided to 'part ways' and he buggered off to parts unknown.

And again, not surprisingly, Mills says that "he is disgusted by claims the marriage split is a sham," telling the Times that "The idea that people could decide on a separation for contrived reasons - it's just not how human beings behave." Oh really?

Various and sundry Labour government hacks have jumped to her defence including the awful Margaret Beckett who said that Jowell should "tough it out" as she is facing a "witch-hunt". Strong words indeed.

Perhaps worse still are the actions of the Home Office who were approached by the Italian prosecutors about getting Mills extradited to Italy to face tax fraud and money-laundering charges. Instead, they passed all the information on to the Italian Embassy in London! On the face of it, it looks like the Home Office are complicit in an attempt to derail the investigation. Remember that Blair and Berlusconi are real buddies.

The Home Office said

"In late 2004 the Serious Fraud Office received a request from the Milan prosecutor for legal advice about the circumstances in which David Mills could be extradited under UK law, based upon possible charges against him. The request was passed to the Crown Prosecution Service who took legal advice which was passed by the Home Office to the Italian embassy in May 2005 since extradition requests are normally handled on diplomatic channels."

The Home office, when asked about why it been passed on to the Italian Embassy in London said that if prosecutors could request extradition it would lead to

"to circumstances no one would tolerate," No 10 said. - 'Jowell inquiry will not extend to Home Office' [Guardian story]

You bet! Understandably, the Italian prosecutors were pretty pissed off with what they saw as Home Office interference in their attempts to extradite Mills. They allege that Home Office officials had "spread reserved information among a large number of people" and thus compromised their investigation, an allegation that the Home Office of course denies.

L'affaire Berlusconi is just the latest in a long list of sleazy goings-on that reveals a cynical ruling class that long ago abandoned any pretence at representing the citizens and a labour government that is in bed with big capital in a big way. Cosy relationships such as the one Blair has with Berlusconi, darling of the Italian neo-fascists, typify a government that knows that by and large the British electorate have turned off mainstream politics almost entirely, judging that no matter what their views are (unless they coincide with Blair's neo-liberal position), they'll be completely ignored.

Rest assured, that what we have learned over the past two weeks is only the tip of the iceberg but don't hold your breath for the MSM to dig too deeply into the cesspit that is the Labour government.

InI Newsletter via William Bowles

Blair clears Jowell of wrongdoing

Tony Blair has cleared Tessa Jowell of breaching ministers' code of conduct - because her husband did not tell her about a £344,000 gift he had received.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell said the culture secretary accepted her husband should have told her about it.

She would then have told her top civil servant about the gift - so complying with the code - Sir Gus's report says.

Prime Minister Mr Blair said: "She is not in breach of her obligations... I have full confidence in her."

Mortgage loan

Ms Jowell, the minister in charge of the winning London Olympic bid, issued a statement saying: "I have always discharged my responsibilities under the ministerial code in good faith."

Despite the report, the furore over Mr Mills' financial dealings is unlikely to go away.

Italian prosecutors have been examining claims the £344,000 payment was made to Mr Mills, an international lawyer, in return for helpful testimony in a corruption probe into Italian premier and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi in 1997. Mr Mills denied that the money came from Mr Berlusconi, saying it was from another client. Both he and Ms Jowell have denied any wrong-doing.

Ms Jowell was drawn into the affair after it emerged that she had co-signed a £408,000 loan taken out against the value of their house, which was paid off just weeks later, apparently using the Italian money. She said it was not "unusual, improper or illegal" for her to take out a mortgage with her husband, and categorically denied that the money came from Mr Berlusconi.

'Full support'

The ministerial code says that gifts to ministers or their families should be notified to the permanent secretary - senior civil servant - in their department.

Ms Jowell told Sir Gus she had first become aware in August 2004 that her husband had received a sum of money in September 2000 "which he thought he had reasonable grounds to believe was a gift".

Sir Gus's investigation came after shadow Commons leader Theresa May asked him to look into whether Ms Jowell's alleged involvement had breached the ministerial code of conduct.

Meanwhile, BBC correspondent Christian Fraser, in Italy, said Italian prosecutors had released documents showing Mr Mills had used his wife's cabinet position and his friendship with Tony Blair to seek approval in Dubai. In an application to practise in the United Arab Emirates, sent four months ago, he tried to reassure financial authorities they had no reason to worry about the ongoing investigation in Italy.

The letter reads: "You will know that I'm married to a minister in the government of this country and that in itself has caused a great deal of unwelcome publicity about this case. "But I also want you to know, I have a lot of support and sympathy from very many people in public life, from the prime minister down." BBC

Police Quiz Health Ministers Husband - (the Blood Trail?)

Foreign Affairs News Keywords: BLOOD TRAIL

Source: www.lineone.net

Published: 7-29-99 Author: Michael Gillard, David Connett and Lucy Johnston

THE husband of Health Minister Tessa Jowell is to be questioned by Scotland Yard as part of an investigation into a shipment of blood infected with the deadly HIV virus. Solicitor David Mills is to be interviewed, possibly next month, at the request of the Italian authorities who have asked for help from the Home Office.

Italian magistrates are investigating a London-based company which was behind the planned shipment of 25 tons of blood plasma worth up to £2million from a port in Italy. Plasma is used to make blood products for treating haemophiliacs and burns victims. It is rumoured that there is a thriving traffic in these products, which are sold cheaply to Third World countries where doctors are unaware of the fact that they are infected with HIV.

The Italians want to interview Mr Mills to see if he can assist in identifying the owners of the company at the centre of the inquiry. Called Padmore, it was formed and run by another company known as CMM Corporate Services. Mr Mills owned and ran CMM until 1994 and remained a non-executive director until 1995.

Italian investigators are expected in London next week. They are keen to question several individuals connected with CMM. Company documents for Padmore passed to the Italians show that it was run out of CMM's offices in London. Mr Mills is expected to be interviewed under oath only as a witness in the Italian inquiry. It is not suggested that he or CMM knew the blood shipment was HIV-infected.

Last night Mr Mills confirmed that he had been "informally" contacted by both the Italian authorities and Scotland Yard and was aware that a formal request had been made for assistance to the Home Office. "I told them I had no knowledge of the company or its activities," he said. "I had no connection with Padmore. I was not a director. I have no papers. I am happy to be interviewed by anyone. If it is lawful to help I will."

As a solicitor, Mr Mills's dealings with his clients are confidential. But he is expected to be interviewed under the powers of the Criminal Justice Act used for assisting foreign criminal investigations which allow him to give evidence about facts relevant to an inquiry.

Mr Mills declined to say whether he knew the Italian family which it is suggested may be behind Padmore and the infected blood deal. "I do not discuss my clients," he said.

It is understood that he has indicated to Italian investigators that he was not involved in the forming or running of Padmore, which could have been incorporated after he sold or left CMM or was handled by another CMM executive without his knowledge. Padmore was formed in the Caribbean tax haven of the British Virgin Islands where no information is provided as to the real owners of companies. The firm is now believed to be in liquidation. The Italians began their inquiries in 1995 after the blood, which had come from the US, was found in a warehouse in the northern port of Trento. Suspicions were raised when it was discovered the blood was past its use-by date.

This is not the first time the Italian connection has caused Mr Mills embarrassment.

CMM specialised in Italian business. Mr Mills is a fluent Italian speaker and has acted for some of the most powerful and wealthy people in Italy.

The political career of his wife Tessa, a former social worker, has been dogged by the business world inhabited by her rich husband and his even richer clients. Ms Jowell, 51, is the country's first public health minister, charged with improving the health of Britain's poorest people. She was a child care worker in Lambeth, London, before winning the seat in Dulwich and West Norwood in 1992. She had also worked as an official with the mental health charity Mind.

Two years ago she an-nounced a Government U-turn on the tobacco sponsorship of Formula One racing. The decision created a storm when it emerged that Labour had received a £1million donation from racing supremo Bernie Ecclestone. The furore was heightened when it was rev-ealed that Mr Mills had been a non-executive di-rector of the Formula One team owned by the Benetton clothing family, who are among his clients. Ms Jowell was accused of a conflict of interest, though she insisted the "sleaze allegations" were unfounded. "I have taken advice and acted on it. Any suggestion of im-propriety is deeply off-ensive," she said.

In 1996 Mr Mills be-came embroiled in an investigation into another of his clients, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. He was caught up in a five-year inquiry into Berlu-sconi's business affairs which involved allegations of bribery, slush funds and secret offshore accounts.

Officials from the Serious Fraud Office, acting for Italian authorities, raided the Mayfair offices of CMM. Files relating to more than 20 companies set up by Mr Mills for Berlusconi were confiscated. Mr Mills had served as either director or company secretary of the firms. There was no suggestion that Mr Mills or his law firm had acted improperly.

In another episode Mr Mills was caught up in a nuclear waste controversy. A company he had formed for clients was named in a Greenpeace report into toxic waste dumping at sea. His speciality has been to advise on legal tax avoidance. This looks set to continue as he has formed a new Mayfair-based venture with a firm of lawyers from the tax haven of Gibraltar. - Lineone via freerepublic

A joke about Aids told by Mr Berlusconi:

An Aids patient asks his doctor whether the sand treatment prescribed him will do any good. "No," the doctor replies, "but you will get accustomed to living under the earth."

His response to critics who said the joke was offensive:

"They have lost their minds; they really have come to the end of the line, indeed they have gone beyond it. I would advise them, too, to undergo sand treatment..."

more quotes

Italy mulls David Mills trial

By By Tony Barber in Rome

Italian prosecutors were on Thursday night considering whether to press a judge to schedule a trial for Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister, and David Mills, a British corporate lawyer who worked for him, on charges of corruption.

Prosecutors in Milan received a request from Mr Mills's lawyers this week for more time to study the mass of documents connected with the case. But the prosecutors are anxious not to delay the technical legal process too long because, even if the two men stand trial, a statute of limitations annulling the case could kick in next year.

The affair has created a political storm in the UK and Italy because Mr Mills is the estranged husband of Tessa Jowell, Britain's culture secretary, who has come under pressure to resign, and comes at a time when Mr Berlusconi is fighting to remain premier in Italy's general election on April 9-10.

The focus of the prosecutors' attention is a $600,000 payment that they suspect Mr Mills received from Mr Berlusconi in return for giving false testimony at two trials in the 1990s in which the premier was accused of corruption.

In July 2004 Mr Mills told the prosecutors that he had received the money from Mr Berlusconi, but four months later he retracted his statement and said the funds had come from a different client.

Speaking on Italian television on Monday night, Mr Berlusconi strongly denied that he had any involvement with the money paid to Mr Mills.

"I have sworn on my children that I knew nothing about this money. Then again, I am prime minister, and by definition the prime minister cannot lie, otherwise he would have to go. I swear here in front of these television cameras that I knew nothing about Mr Mills's money," Mr Berlusconi said.

He also said it was impossible that any manager of Fininvest, the Berlusconi family-owned business empire, could have transferred money to Mr Mills. "I never knew this Mr Mills at all," the prime minister said. "This story is invented, and shows that there are judges who are organically on the left and invent stories during an election period." - msnbc.msn.com

Full text: David Mills' letter

Italian officials say Culture Secretary Tessa Jowells' husband David Mills, 61, was paid to give false evidence in court for Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi. Mr Mills denies that. He admits writing a letter to his accountants where he appears to be describing a payment, but claims he was inventing a scenario to get tax advice. Here is the full text of that letter:

David Mills admits writing a letter to his accountants

2 February 2004

Dear Bob

The brief relevant facts are these.

In 1996 I ended up with a dividend from Mr B's companies of around £1.5m after all the tax and fees had been paid.

This was all done on a personal basis: I took the risk, and kept my partners right out of it.

Wisely or otherwise, I informed my partners what I had done and, since it was a substantial windfall, offered to pay them (I think) around £50,000 or £100,000 each as what I though [sic] was a pretty generous gesture.

Which shows you how you can be, as they insisted the transaction should be treated as a partnership profit. To avoid litigation (we had just merged with Withers) I agreed to put the money on deposit in my bank until they were satisfied that there would be no third part claim.

By 2000 it was clear there would be no claim (I knew that all along) and the money was taken off deposit and paid out; I kept just under £500,000 out of what was then getting on for £2m.

So all that risk and cost for not very much. The greatest cost was leaving Withers. I was not asked to leave it, but felt so uncomfortable there, not least because my Mackenzie Mills partners had taken most of the benefit for none of the risk, that I really couldn't stay.

I spent 1998, 1999 and 2000 as a sole practitioner, and it was evident that the trials were going on, there would be lawyers to pay and there was always the risk of being charged with something - which is actually about to happen now as a result of the latest investigation, which you know about.

I kept in close touch with the B people, and they knew my circumstances.

They knew, in particular, how my partners had taken most of the dividend; they also knew quite how much the way in which I had been able to give my evidence (I told no lies, but I turned some very tricky corners, to put it mildly) had kept Mr B out of a great deal of trouble that I would have landed him in if I had said all I knew.

At around the end of 1999, I was told I would receive money, which I could treat as a long term loan or a gift. $600,000 was put in a hedge fund and I was told it would be there if I needed it.

(It was put in the fund because the person connected to the B organisations was someone I had discussed this fund with on many occasions, and it was a round about way of making the money available.)

For obvious reasons of their own (I was at that stage still a prosecution witness, but my evidence had been given) it needed to be done discreetly. And this was a roundabout way.

At the end of 2000 I wanted to invest in another fund, and my bank made a loan of the amount, secured on my house etc., of around 650,000 euros. I paid it off by liquidating the $600,000. I attach a copy of the dollar account.

I regarded the payment as a gift. What else could it be? I wasn't employed, I wasn't acting for them, I wasn't doing anything for them, I had already given my evidence, but there was certainly the risk of future legal costs (as there have been) and a great deal of anxiety (as there certainly have been).

This has been going on for more than eight years now. My contract was aware of how my income earning capacity had been damaged, and in 1998 and 1999 I was able to send bills from my practice to certain companies, which were paid and increased my income. But this was different.

Because I was pretty sure my CGT position was negative overall, I stupidly made no returns on my transactions. If they are closely looked at (i.e., where did the money come from to buy the centurion shares?), I am obviously concerned about what to do and how this should best be handled.

I attach the key documents.

Yours sincerely

David Mills

Berlusconi says Maoist communists boiled babies

March 26th 2006 - NAPLES (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, fighting for re-election against a centre-left coalition which includes the hard left, said on Sunday that communists had a history of boiling babies.

"I have been accused many times of saying communists eat babies," he told a rally of his Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party. "Go and read the black book on communism and you'll find that under Mao's China they didn't eat babies but they boiled them to fertilise the fields. "They say we look to the past too much, but they forget that in the opposition there are three parties who proudly call themselves communists."

Berlusconi has often been accused of being obsessed with the "communist threat" in Italy, a country where during the Cold War the communist party was bigger than anywhere else in western Europe.

In the run-up to winning the 2001 election, Berlusconi said: "I can organise a conference in which I will prove communists have really eaten babies and done even worse things."

With the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union, most of the Italian Communist Party transformed itself into the Democrats of the Left, now Italy's main opposition party. But smaller breakaway communist parties still exist. The biggest, Communist Refoundation is likely to poll 6-7 percent of the vote at the April 9-10 election, opinion polls indicate. Another, Italian Communists, may get up to 3 percent.

Polls put the centre-left bloc, led by former European Commission President Romano Prodi, 4-5 percentage points ahead of Berlusconi's centre-right. - news.yahoo.com

Berlusconi, Prodi Shun Talk of Mafia's Grip on Southern Italy

March 30 (Bloomberg) -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and election rival Romano Prodi, who promise to revive the country's stagnant economy, are avoiding talking about a reason for its weaknesses: organized crime. Locked in a close race with just 10 days to go until the April 9 and 10 elections, the candidates are reluctant to alienate voters in the country's south, where organized crime's influence may extend to the ballot box.

``There's a mafia state that exists alongside the legal state,'' said Mario Centorrino, a professor of economics at the University of Messina in Sicily who's written four books on organized crime. ``Between them, there's an exchange of favors and resources. Among the resources exchanged are definitely votes.''

Crime syndicates drained 28 billion euros ($33.8 billion) from the legal economy in 2004, says SOS Impresa, a Rome-based group that fights corruption. Incomes in Italy's south have remained two-thirds those of the rest of the country because of organized crime, according to the Censis research institute in Rome. Average unemployment in the south is four times that of the north, topping 20 percent in some areas and reaching 38 percent for 15- to 24-year-olds, the government statistics office says.

Italy's south, known as the Mezzogiorno, is a group of eight regions that are home to more than a third of Italy's 59 million people. Italy's three biggest homegrown crime syndicates are all based in the area.

Cosa Nostra

The Sicilian Mafia, known as Cosa Nostra, the Camorra in the region of Campania and the 'Ndrangheta in Calabria control or have a corrupting effect on most businesses in their territories, according to the Interior Ministry.

That influence also extends into government and politics. Since 1992, Italian courts have dissolved 240 city governments from both sides of the political spectrum because they were discovered to have been controlled by crime syndicates, according to data from the Interior Ministry and parliament's Antimafia Commission. Since November of last year, nine city councils have been disbanded.

``The feeling outside of Sicily is that the fight against organized crime isn't an issue that involves them,'' said anti- crime activist Rita Borsellino, sister of investigative magistrate Paolo Borsellino, who was killed by a car bomb in 1992. ``The mafia is tied to the business world and the economy, and so it's a problem for all of Italy and not just Sicily.''

Abandoning Berlusconi

In last year's regional elections, southern voters abandoned Berlusconi, a sign that the Mezzogiorno may hold the decisive margin in the national poll. Berlusconi's coalition lost control of all three southern regions that voted last April -- Apulia, Calabria and Basilicata.

``The southern voters were the swing vote in the regional elections because Berlusconi's government is perceived to have favored the north,'' said Maurizio Pessato, chief executive officer of Trieste-based polling company SWG Srl.

The final set of opinion polls showed Prodi's Union coalition holding about a 5 percentage point lead over Berlusconi's House of Freedoms slate. Under Italian law, no opinion polls are allowed for the final two weeks of a national campaign.

At their first debate on March 14, neither Prodi nor Berlusconi addressed, or were questioned about, their plans for the south's economy or strategy to combat organized crime. The two men are scheduled to meet in a second and final debate on April 3.

Little Discussion

Berlusconi, 69, hasn't mentioned the mob or talked about how he plans to fight it during campaign speeches this year. Prodi, 66, talked about fighting organized crime because of its negative impact on Europe's forth-biggest economy on at least three occasions in March, without elaborating on how he would do it.

The candidates' published election programs offer more evidence that crime is being subsumed by other issues.

The Union coalition headed by Prodi calls the fight against organized crime an ``absolute priority,'' while relegating the issue to page 66 in its 281-page campaign manifesto. Berlusconi's House of Freedoms coalition mentions ``fighting organized crime'' just once in its 24-page electoral booklet.

Prodi, in a Feb. 27 interview in his office, said that while he believes in fighting crime, he is concentrating on broader economic issues such as reducing labor costs to make Italian companies more competitive in the campaign.

`An Ethical Necessity'

``One can't always say the same things or else one needs 281 pages for every speech,'' said Prodi, a former president of the European Commission. ``I'll talk about it a lot because it's an ethical necessity and because I can't maintain any promises for growth if there's no fight against the mafia.''

Berlusconi, through his spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti, declined a request for an interview. During his term of office, 807 mafia fugitives have been arrested, said Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu, who is a member of Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.

Local political leaders are more willing to discuss the issue. ``The Mafia has never been battled with the will to defeat it,'' said Borsellino, 60, who is running to unseat Salvatore ``Toto'' Cuffaro as head of Sicily's regional government in a May 28-29 election. ``A recovery of the Sicilian economy could pull the national economy up with it.''

On Trial

Cuffaro, currently on trial in Palermo for helping Cosa Nostra avoid police surveillance, is also standing for the first time in April's national vote as a candidate for parliament in Berlusconi's coalition. He denies any wrongdoing through his lawyer, Antonio Caleca.

Marcello Dell'Utri, who ran the advertising unit of Berlusconi's Mediaset SpA TV company and is a member of parliament for Forza Italia, was convicted for being tied to the mob in December 2004 and sentenced to nine years in jail. He denies the charge and is appealing the decision. He helped draft the list of Forza Italia candidates and is standing again himself.

Italy's chief anti-mob prosecutor, Piero Grasso, called on Jan. 30 for political parties to avoid nominating candidates who are suspected of involvement with organized crime.

``Making those under investigation candidates could send a message that the mafia appreciates, a message of impunity, a challenge to the justice system,'' Grasso said in a speech in Palermo in which he also criticized the government for not dedicating enough resources to the fight against crime.

Berlusconi's coalition won all of Sicily's 61 parliamentary seats in the 2001 national vote. Cuffaro is a member of the Union of Christian Democrats party, one of four in Berlusconi's bloc. Cuffaro and 10 other local Union of Christian Democrat officials, including one labor undersecretary in Berlusconi's government, are under investigation, on trial or appealing alleged collaborations with Cosa Nostra.

``Berlusconi never talks about the mafia, while Prodi isn't mentioning it very often,'' said Maurizio Guzzardo, 44, an agronomist in Palermo, Sicily, who says he'll vote for Prodi. ``There's more talk about jobs than the mafia, without understanding that the two things go together.'' - bloomberg.com

Mafia built submarine to run drugs

A SUBMARINE in which the Mafia planned to smuggle millions of pounds of cocaine into Europe has been seized by police.

Details of the drug-trafficking plot were released yesterday by Italy's top anti-Mafia investigator, Piero Grasso, after he returned from an operation in South America. The submarine was under construction in a shipyard and would have been used to elude coastal radar systems, which normally intercept drug-trafficking vessels.

Mr Grasso said: "The Mafia planned to use the submarine to ship cocaine from Colombia to Europe." - scotsman.com

New european order?
Blair: "lukk, er...he's not all bad! um..."

(AGI) - Rome, April 2 - The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, giving an interview to the 'Quotidiano Nazionale' newspaper, said, "I would like to ask right-wing supporters not to vote for Alessandra Mussolini. Otherwise they are playing right into left-wing hands by taking votes away from the House of Liberty [right-wing] coalition. These votes will carry double the weight, because they'll take one away from us and then add onto whatever the opposition gets". The premier then once again made the appeal he had made before on other occasions. "Get out and vote. There's a risk that these regional elections could be the springboard that launches the left-wing into national government, with serious risks, and I want to repeat this, for democracy" source

"new Synarchists"

Alessandra Mussolini
New european order?
New european order?
"new Synarchists" around Spain's Blas Piar; the friends of Alessandra Mussolini (with Adriano Tilgerof Italy's National Socialist Front, Rafael Lopez Dieguez of Piar's Alternativa Nacional, and Fuerzo Nuova terrorist controller Roberto Fiore.
New european order?
Mussolini with Adriano Tilger
of Italy's National Socialist Front

Update: Berlusconi sees suicide bomb threat against him

ROME, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said a suicide bomber had plotted to blow him up in a soccer stadium.

"I am the subject of a direct threat. A suicide bomber in a stadium aiming for me," Berlusconi told Italian newspaper Libero in an interview published on Thursday. "But it is not a question of me. Half of Italy was there. Aren't people worried about this?"

Berlusconi did not say when the plot was uncovered, and his office declined any further comment.

The prime minister owns top Italian soccer club AC Milan and sometimes goes to the San Siro stadium in Italy's financial capital Milan to follow their matches. Italy, a close ally of the United States in the war in Iraq, has received numerous Internet threats purported to be from Islamic extremists. Several threats have identified Berlusconi as a target.

Italy's interior minister, Giuseppe Pisanu, said in July that terrorism was "knocking on Italy's door". He has since said Italy will be at most risk in the early part of next year when it holds the Winter Olympics and general elections. - alertnet.org

Italy's Fini tosses hat in ring for PM post

Tue Oct 25, 2005 3:33 PM ET ROME (Reuters) - Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said on Tuesday he hoped to replace Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as leader of the center-right coalition if his party won more votes in April's general election.

Fini, head of the ruling coalition's National Alliance party which traces its roots back to Italy's fascist past, said he was a candidate along with Berlusconi and lower house of parliament speaker Pier Ferdinando Casini.

"Berlusconi put forward a challenge and I've accepted it. There are three men in the center-right: Berlusconi, Fini and Casini. We will be candidates," he said. "It will be a fair competition ... It will be the voters who decide who should be prime minister."

Berlusconi, resisting calls for a U.S.-style primary, has said the leader of the party in the center-right coalition that wins the most votes next year will be in the driving seat when it comes to negotiations over the prime minister's job. Berlusconi, who took the post in 2001 and will lead the center-right ticket for the 2006 election, is trailing in polls to his center-left rival Romano Prodi, partly because of concern over Italy's sluggish economy.

Berlusconi's Forza Italia "Go Italy" party is the largest in the center-right coalition, followed by Fini's National Alliance. Casini is a member of the smaller Union of Christian Democrats (UDC).

Fini is one of Italy's most popular politicians and is shown to have strong center-right support in opinion polls. He created the National Alliance in 1994, when he persuaded the neo-fascist faithful to ditch the Italian Social Movement (MSI) and join him in a new-look, right-wing organization.

Since then he has forced many hard-liners to quit the party and caused a stir in 2003 when he denounced Italy's wartime fascist leader, Benito Mussolini. - reuters

Berlusconis last grasp?

Update: Italy thwarts terror attack ahead of election

April 06 2006 at 03:22PM

Cagliari - Italy has thwarted a planned terror attack, Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu said on Thursday during a campaign rally ahead of the April 9-10 general election.

A source familiar with the operation, who declined to be named, said the strikes in northern Italy were likely meant to take place before the vote, in which US Iraq war ally Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is running for re-election.

The source gave no further details.

"Now I can say it. There was a terrorist plan aimed at our country which was prevented thanks to the controls and preventative measures taken by our (security) apparatus," Pisanu said, in comments confirmed by his spokesperson.

Pisanu said the likely targets appeared to have been the Milan metro rail system and the 14th century San Petronio basilica in Bologna, which has a fresco of the Prophet Mohammad burning in hell.

The work, inspired by Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy, also shows Mohammad being tormented by a demon.

Pisanu added six people had been arrested in the anti-terrorism operation. Three of the suspects were later expelled from Italy, two were detained and one placed under observation. A seventh man was still being sought.

"As one can see, our system of prevention, based on focused control of the territory and of the at-risk environments, is shown to be once again very effective," Pisanu said.

Italy has been on high alert for possible terrorist activity since the March 11, 2004 bombings in Madrid, just days before Spanish elections, and the attacks on London's transport network last July.

The United States issued a travel alert to U.S. citizens last month saying that Italy was "under heightened public threat by al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists" for its military role in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Italy has the fourth largest foreign contingent in Iraq, but plans to withdraw 1&nbsop000 of its 2 600 troops by June and finish its mission there by the end of the year. Italy has 1 775 troops in Afghanistan. - iol.co.za
2002 - Berlusconis deja vu?

Paper: Italian Church Attack Plotted

Yahoo News/AP ^ | Sun Jun 23 2002 ROME (AP) -

Suspected Islamic militants were plotting an attack on a northern Italian church that has been the subject of protests by Muslims in the past, a newspaper reported Sunday. The Milan daily Corriere della Sera said the San Petronio basilica in Bologna was targeted apparently because it contains a 15th century fresco that depicts Islam's prophet Muhammad in Hell, being devoured by demons.

Last year, a group of Italian Muslims appealed unsuccessfully to the Vatican to have the fresco by Giovanni da Modena removed or parts of it covered, arguing that it offended Islam. The group, the Union of Muslims in Italy, denied any link to the plot to attack the church on Sunday and questioned the report's veracity, president Adel Smith told The Associated Press.

"We send letters and stage protests," Smith said. "It's obvious that we have nothing to do with this thing."

Corriere said Italian Carabinieri paramilitary police learned of the plot by intercepting phone conversations as part of a larger investigation into Muslim militants operating in Italy.

That investigation led to the convictions earlier this year of seven Tunisians in Milan who were accused of giving logistical support to al-Qaida recruits passing through Europe. The Tunisians were also accused by prosecutors of links to the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, a dissident faction of the Armed Islamic Group, Algeria's most radical insurgency movement.

The United States has branded the Salafist group a terrorist organization and ordered its assets frozen. The wiretaps indicated that starting in February, members of the Milan cell began plotting an attack on the Bologna church on orders of Salafist leader Hassan Hattab, Corriere said. Specific details, however, were never discussed. In calls placed to Carabinieri offices in Milan and Bologna Sunday, officials said no one was available to confirm the report.

Over the course of the investigation, authorities learned details of a Libyan in Italy, identified only as Amsa, who allegedly was sent by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network to coordinate activities of the various cells operating in the country, Corriere said.

Based on information passed onto Britain from the CIA and Italian intelligence, Amsa was arrested three weeks ago in London on charges of having false documents, Corriere said. Scotland Yard said Sunday it had no information on the arrest. - via freerepublic.com

Blair more isolated on Iraq issue after Berlusconi's defeat

Hasan Suroor LONDON:

The British Prime Minister Tony Blair faces more isolation in Europe over Iraq after the defeat of his Italian counterpart and political ally Silvio Berlusconi. Of the three European leaders who unreservedly joined the U.S.-led invasion defying domestic public opinion, Mr. Blair is the only one who stills remains in power amid growing calls for him to quit.

The first to go was the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar after he was defeated in the wake of the Madrid bombings in 2004 which were seen as a consequence of his support for the Iraq invasion. Now Mr. Berlusconi is out, and though his fall is not directly related to Iraq it will add to pressure on Mr. Blair as he lurches from one crisis to another.

Mr. Blair, Mr. Aznar and Mr. Berlusconi forged a political alliance that proved highly divisive for Europe during the Iraq war which was strongly opposed by France and Germany. Americans used the divisions to dismiss France and Germany as "Old'' Europe and embrace the so-called "new'' Europe represented by leaders like Mr. Aznar and Mr. Berlusconi - with Mr. Blair acting as a bridge in trans-Atlantic relations.

The trio also formed a close personal relationship with Mr. Blair spending summer holidays at Mr. Berlusconi's villa in Sardinia. Analysts said that Mr. Berlusconi's exit meant that mainland Europe's last bastion of support for the U.S. President George W. Bush's foreign policy had fallen and it would add to Mr. Blair's sense of isolation.

"Mr. Blair is likely to put a brave face on the defeat although many will see it as a further nail in his own political coffin,'' said The Independent newspaper. - hindu.com

Berlusconi calculates Prodi's political collapse

By Tony Barber in Rome Published: April 21 2006

From Italy's highest court to the US State Department and Muammer Gadaffi, Libya's leader, Romano Prodi has received recognition of his victory in last week's national election from everyone that matters in the world.

Everyone, that is, except the man he defeated - Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's billionaire media magnate and prime minister for the past five years.

One purpose behind Mr Berlusconi's refusal, described as "sad" by Mr Prodi, is to cast such aspersions over the forthcoming Prodi-led government that it will lack full legitimacy in the eyes of the Italian public.

This, Mr Berlusconi calculates, may accelerate its collapse, not least because it will in any case struggle with a minuscule majority in parliament's upper house and with internal divisions over policy and personnel appointments.

The fact that his disregard of the election result flies in the face of accepted political practice in all western democracies has upset some of Mr Berlusconi's allies, who have broken ranks with him and congratulated Mr Prodi.

Italian political commentators are also disturbed. "To continue declaring or insinuating that the new parliament is not legitimate would be a very serious step, such as to create instability and permanent disorder," Stefano Folli wrote in Thursday's Il Sole 24 Ore, Italy's leading business newspaper.

As for Mr Berlusconi, he seems troubled not one whit. "It's clear that whoever wants to be recognised as the winner for having obtained a majority of the seats ..should in his turn recognise that the political victory in terms of votes gained belongs to the [centre-right] House of Freedoms, and that Forza Italia, with 24 per cent, is the country's leading party," he said in an interview published in Friday's Piccolo, a Trieste-based newspaper.

Politicians cite two other reasons for Mr Berlusconi's tactics. First, he needs to reassert his leadership of Italy's centre-right, so that his second election defeat at Mr Prodi's hands in 10 years does not deprive him of the chance to regain power in an election triggered by the early fall of a Prodi government.

Giovanni Alemanno, agriculture minister, this week suggested the leadership would soon be up for grabs and named four contenders. They were Giulio Tremonti, finance minister and Forza Italia vice-president; Giuseppe Pisanu, interior minister and another Forza Italia "big beast"; Gianfranco Fini, foreign minister and leader of Mr Alemanno's National Alliance party; and Pier Ferdinando Casini, the most prominent Christian Democrat in the Berlusconi coalition.

Such speculation irritates Mr Berlusconi, and his determination to suppress it hints at the third reason for his behaviour. This is his suspicion that a Prodi government will pass a law cracking down on the conflict of interests that has bedevilled Mr Berlusconi's career as media magnate and politician.

In essence, he may be compelled to choose between Mediaset, his television empire, and his political ambitions. To avoid having to make such a choice, he needs to topple Mr Prodi's government as soon as possible.

The sheer weight of its internal contradictions means that the next government may never get far off the ground anyway. Centre-left leaders are pleading with Mr Prodi to sort out a damaging row over who should become the next speaker of parliament's lower house to replace Mr Casini.

Once he forms his government, Mr Prodi will face even thornier problems in settling disputes over fiscal policy, labour market laws and Italy's troop presence in Iraq. - FT.com
Mr B's P2 / Mafia connections return

Andreotti brought back from political graveyard

By Tony Barber in Rome - Published: April 24 2006 - FT com

Giulio Andreotti, an 87-year-old former Italian premier who once stood trial for alleged collusion with the mafia, was identified on Monday as the politician who may determine the fate of Romano Prodi's attempt to form a government.

The outgoing centre-right coalition of Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister, is proposing that Mr Andreotti should be the next speaker of the Senate, parliament's upper house, in preference to Franco Marini, the candidate of Mr Prodi's centre-left alliance.

The Senate is expected to hold the vote for the speakership on Saturday, and a victory for the Berlusconi forces may fatally wound Mr Prodi by demonstrating that the would-be premier cannot muster a majority in one of the two legislative chambers.

"It must be the duty of all the forces who support Romano Prodi to vote for Marini and not to fall into the trap set by those who want to confuse everything," said Marco Rizzo, a communist member of the centre-left alliance.

Mr Prodi is keen to form a government as soon as possible to tackle Italy's rising budget deficit and public debt, but a defeat on Saturday would raise the question of whether a Prodi government would be strong enough to achieve anything.

His alliance has a 158-156 majority over the centre-right in the Senate, but there are eight other senators - including Mr Andreotti, who is one of seven "senators for life", and an independent - who are free to vote whichever way they please.

Paradoxically, after the centre-left's hard-earned victory over the centre-right in the April 9-10 general election, it may be one of Mr Berlusconi's coalition partners that saves Mr Prodi's bacon.

Leaders of the Northern League, a populist party with unforgotten grudges against the Christian Democrats who once dominated Italy, say they are reluctant to support Mr Andreotti because, in their eyes, he embodied the old Christian Democratic system of corruption and patronage politics.

The League holds 13 seats in the Senate, enough to swing Saturday's vote, and its centre-right allies want League politicians to hold their noses and vote for Mr Andreotti as the surest way to destroy Mr Prodi.

Mr Andreotti, who served seven times as prime minister, is revelling in the all the attention, unmatched since he was put on trial in the 1990s for alleged association with the mafia.

He said last weekend he would be honoured to serve as speaker of the Senate, but added: "I am at an age when I should be making plans more for the next world than for this one."

In 2003 a Palermo appeals court found him not guilty of mafia association after spring 1980, but ruled that he had shown "a genuine, lasting and friendly disposition towards mafiosi" before that time.

He could not be convicted because the crime of "mafia association" did not exist in Italian law until 1982. In addition, too much time had passed under Italy's statute of limitations to find him guilty of "criminal association", a crime that did exist in law before 1982.