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Last Updated: Friday, 10 September, 2004, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
De Niro fury at US Italian attack
Robert De Niro
De Niro says he identifies strongly with his Italian roots
Robert De Niro has rebutted claims he should not be granted Italian citizenship because his portrayal of Mafia men damages the country.

The part-Italian actor defended the parts, saying: "The characters I play are real. So they have as much right to be portrayed as any other characters."

His citizenship ceremony was postponed after objections from US-based group the Order of Sons of Italy.

But despite their outcry, the event is now due to go ahead in Rome in October.

The protesters had ignored scores of other parts he had played in his career, the 61-year-old star said.

I'm very proud and honoured to be asked to be a citizen
Robert De Niro
De Niro played Mafia boss Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II and has also played Italian-American crime figures in Analyze This and The Untouchables.

His other acclaimed movies include Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter and Meet the Parents.

De Niro was born in New York after his great-grandparents emigrated to the US from Ferrazzano, in Italy's central Molise region, at the end of the 19th Century.

He has damaged their image by constantly playing criminal roles that tarnish their reputation
Joseph Sciame
The Sons of Italy
Speaking at the Venice Film Festival, he said: "I'm part Italian, part Dutch, part French, part German and part Irish, but I probably identify more with my Italian side than any other parts.

"Italy is such a great and wonderful country, I'm very proud and honoured to be asked to be a citizen."

The Sons of Italy group's president Joseph Sciame wrote to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to complain about De Niro receiving the award.

He wrote: "He has done nothing to promote the image of Italians. He has damaged their image by constantly playing criminal roles that tarnish their reputation."

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