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Last Updated: Saturday, 12 July, 2003, 21:43 GMT 22:43 UK
Italy calls halt to war of words
Stefano Stefani and a group of German tourists
Mr Stefani has extended the hand of friendship to Germans

Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi has called for a line to be drawn under the dispute between Rome and Berlin, following the resignation of a minister who insulted German tourists.

Tourism minister Stefano Stefani resigned on Friday and has published an apology in the German tabloid Bild for his comments describing Germans as hyper-nationalistic blond louts.

The comments prompted German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to cancel his annual holiday in Italy.

The opposition leader Angela Merkel, who has kept a low profile during the row, has also said this should be the end of the matter.

Mr Stefani's remarks stoked existing diplomatic acrimony between Rome and Berlin which was unleashed 10 days ago when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi compared a German member of the European Parliament to a Nazi camp guard.

Holiday in Hanover

Both sides now appear to be trying to defuse the row.

Even Bild, which helped fuel national outrage over the spat, has declared "Spaghetti Peace".

"We cannot allow a painful polemic which disturbed German-Italian relations to cast a shadow over our future co-operation," Mr Ciampi said in Sunday's edition of Bild.

Bild website

Mr Berlusconi said it was "a sad and disagreeable event to which excessive importance has been given".

Mr Schroeder has said that, despite Mr Stefani's resignation, he will not reconsider his decision to cancel his Italian holiday.

Instead he will stay at home in Hanover although he indicated he would be back in Rimini next year.

However, his decision has been criticised by the former chancellor, Helmut Kohl, who told a news magazine he had completely over-reacted.

Tabloid apology

In an apparent act of contrition, Mr Stefani told Bild: "I love Germany".

"If, through my words, a misunderstanding resulted for many Germans, I would like to hereby apologise many times."

"I only wanted to criticise those who keep trying to show Italians and their government in a bad light. Germans are always welcome here because they are - and will remain - exemplary neighbours and reliable friends in Europe".

The mudslinging has caused economic concern in Italy, where Germans make up about a quarter of tourists.

But Bild - the most-read newspaper in Germany - which led a campaign against Italian holidays now seems to have forgotten the past fortnight's misdemeanours.

On Saturday, it published 55 reasons to love Italy - one of which was that they build Michael Schumacher's racing cars - and even advertised the best last minute deals for Italian vacations.

Next week Italy can look forward to a Bild excursion.

The paper is flying a planeful of self-confessed loud, fat, blond Germans to the beach at Rimini.

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