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Friday, 20 April, 2001, 17:50 GMT 18:50 UK
Death threats sour Italy campaign
Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi says his security has been stepped up
An increasingly bitter election campaign in Italy has been soured still further by claims that both of the main candidates have received death threats.

Right-wing leader Silvio Berlusconi said his party was postponing its main election rally in Milan because of what he called an atmosphere of hatred.


Some of our legislators have been attacked, some of our party's headquarters ravaged, electoral stands set on fire

Silvio Berlusconi
And the left-wing contender, Francesco Rutelli, is also reported to have received death threats.

Opinion polls suggest the governing left-wing coalition is trailing Mr Berlusconi's alliance in the run-up to the 13 May poll, but around 40% of the voters are still undecided.

The comments from Mr Berlusconi came as the left-wingers opened a two-day convention to reveal their election programme - sparking comments in some quarters that his timing was politically motivated.

Francesco Rutelli
Rutelli: Anonymous letter sent to newspaper
Mr Berlusconi said the campaign of intimidation against him and members of his Forza Italia party had included attacks and threatening phone calls.

Written death threats had been received, he said, offices had been destroyed and some properties burned.

"Some of our legislators have been attacked, some of our party's headquarters ravaged, electoral stands set on fire," he was quoted as saying in Italian newspapers.


A claim of this kind, coming from the opposition leader, is a claim to be considered with utmost attention

Prime Minister
Guiliano Amato
He said some leaflets had contained symbols of the militant Red Brigades group, which waged a campaign of terror in Italy in the 1970s and 1980s.

Mr Berlusconi said his security had now been stepped up.

Prime Minister Giuliano Amato said the reported threats had to be taken seriously.

Anonymous letter

"A claim of this kind, coming from the opposition leader, is a claim to be considered with utmost attention," he said.

But he said the authorities had as yet no evidence of such threats, and urged Mr Berlusconi to produce the evidence he had.

Sources close to Mr Rutelli, meanwhile, said an anonymous letter had been received by a Rome newspaper, Il Messaggero, on 14 April, containing threats against his life.

A phone call was made several days later from a self-styled "combat cell" making similar threats.

The election pits Mr Rutelli's left-wingers against Mr Berlusconi's five-party alliance, which includes the neo-fascist National Alliance and the anti-immigration Northern League.

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See also:

26 Sep 00 | Europe
Coalition pins hopes on Rutelli
09 Apr 01 | Europe
Berlusconi faces comeback battle
09 Mar 01 | Europe
May date for Italy election
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