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'Cross on flag' flap

Italy must show Christian colours says League man

30 November, 23:35
Mock-up of what proposed flag might look like
Mock-up of what proposed flag might look like
'Cross on flag' flap

ROME - A prominent rightwing politician on Monday called for a cross to be added to the Italian flag, drawing angry responses from majority and opposition figures. Junior Transport Minister Roberto Castelli of the Northern League, a member of the governing centre-right coalition, said he hoped his party would back the idea as part of a constitutional reform package scheduled for next year. ''I believe Europe has the right to rediscover its own identity, which is in the process of being entirely lost,'' said Castelli, whose Northern League party is often accused of being against immigration. ''There must be respect for other religions and ways of thinking but we must return to our own faith''.

Castelli first touched on the idea on Sunday night, while commenting on the outcome of a referendum in Switzerland, which voted to ban the construction of minarets. Praising Swiss voters for their ''civilisation lesson'', he said a strong sign was needed to fight ''pro-Islamist ideology''. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, of the other coalition governing party, the People of Freedom (PdL), said the idea was ''appealing''. ''There are in fact nine European countries that already have the cross on their flag, so this would be an entirely normal thing to do,'' he said. But other MPs in the PdL criticized the idea.

European Affairs Minister Andrea Ronchi described the proposal as ''absolute garbage''. ''The Tricolor is a symbol that can't be touched,'' he said. ''It has a long tradition, is immensely relevant and must be white, red and green, period''. The Farefuturo web magazine of House Speaker Gianfranco Fini, also a PdL member, branded the proposal ''provocative and political propaganda''.

''This is dangerous nonsense that risks sending out a message of closure that has less to do with legality and security and more to do with the ethnic and religious situation of Muslims,'' it said.

Members of the opposition also voiced anger over the proposal. The shadow immigration minister of the largest opposition group, the Democratic Party (PD), said ''the nonsense the League continues to spout should be ignored''. ''These forays damage Italy and the Italians, and besmirch the value of religion,'' said Livia Turco.

The deputy chair of the House European affairs committee, Enrico Farinone, another PD member, accused the League of being confrontational and said the crucifix should be used ''to unite people rather than divide them''. The Senate whip for the centrist Catholic opposition UDC, Gianpiero D'Alia, warned: ''Those preaching intolerance and racial hatred, as the League does, cannot exploit Christian values and use them for political point-scoring''.

The House whip for the small opposition Italy of Values party, Massimo Donadi, said the Northern League had ''descended into farce'', while Alessandro Pignatiello of the Italian Communist Party described the suggestion as ''beyond all decency''.

Pignatiello also accused the League of hypocrisy in its bout of flag-waving.

At a rally near Como in 1997, he recalled, League leader Umberto Bossi said he only used the tricolor "to wipe (his) *ss".

Prominent Northern League figures have frequently made headlines for their stance on Islam and immigration, most notably during the Danish cartoon row in 2006, when Roberto Calderoli wore a T-shirt emblazoned with one of the images. Most recently, the Northern League was accused of racism after it emerged that a local scheme to rid a town of illegal immigrants had been nicknamed ''White Christmas''.

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