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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 June, 2005, 22:37 GMT 23:37 UK
Italy party hails Bossi's return
Umberto Bossi waves to supporters in Pontida
Mr Bossi looked a shadow of his former self
Italy's right-wing Northern League has hailed its fiery leader Umberto Bossi as he made his first public address since suffering a heart attack in 2004.

Mr Bossi was greeted ecstatically by thousands of the party faithful as he spoke in the northern town of Pontida.

The 62-year-old - who suffered partial brain damage - looked weak and had to stop several times during his speech.

At the party rally, the Northern League also renewed its call to ditch the euro and return to the lira.

The party launched it campaign earlier in June, arguing that the EU's single currency has led to price increases and hit small Italian businesses.

Bossi's delight

Mr Bossi looked a shadow of his former self as he addressed the cheering crowd of the largely eurosceptic Northern League.

A Northern League supporter cast his vote to leave the euro and return to the lira
Party members took part in a "lira referendum"

He expressed his delight over recent blows suffered by the EU, in an apparent reference to the rejection of the bloc's first constitution by the French and Dutch voters and also the deepening budget row.

"I knew Europe would fail," Mr Bossi said to loud cheers.

Mr Bossi - whose party in part of the governing coalition led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi - also renewed his call for the creation of a free Northern Italy, known as Padania.

"No-one will stop us. Free Padania, Padania for ever, than you Pontida," he said.

'Lira plan'

Other Northern League leaders used the meeting to press for Italy's withdrawal from the 12-nation eurozone.

"The euro has made us all poorer," said senior party official Roberto Calderoli.

Party members were also asked to vote on one of three options: the return of the lira as the single national currency; the introduction of a national currency pegged to the dollar; or the parallel use of two currencies - the lira and the euro.

Northern League leaders have said they want to put the option which will get most votes to a national referendum.

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07 Jul 04 |  Country profiles

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