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Thursday, 27 September, 2001, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
EU deplores 'dangerous' Islam jibe
Silvio Berlusconi and Gerhard Schroeder
Mr Berlusconi (left) says Western civilisation is superior
The European Union has denounced Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's remarks about the superiority of Western civilisation, warning that they could have "dangerous" repercussions.

"These remarks could, in a dangerous way, have consequences," Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, whose nation holds the EU presidency, was quoted as saying.

"I can hardly believe that the Italian prime minister made such statements ... rather than bringing civilisations together, they could feed a feeling of humiliation."

Mr Verhofstadt was speaking as he left for Washington, where he is due to meet with US President George W Bush.


We must be aware of the superiority of our civilisation, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and - in contrast with Islamic countries - respect for religious and political rights

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

"We certainly don't share the views expressed yesterday by Mr Berlusconi," said Jean-Christophe Filori, spokesman for the European Commission, the EU's executive arm.

The Italian prime minister caused a domestic political storm with his remarks about the superiority of Western civilisation.

During a visit to Germany Mr Berlusconi said the West guaranteed respect for human rights and religion - something he said did not exist in the Islamic world.

One prominent member of Italy's centre-left opposition, Giovanni Berlinguer, accused Mr Berlusconi of launching into eccentric and dangerous calls for conflict between civilisations.

Out of context

But Mr Berlusconi's spokesman, Paolo Bonaiuti, said his critics were taking his words out of context.

Mr Berlusconi's comments come at a time when Western leaders have been at pains to reassure the Islamic world that the campaign against terrorism was not a fight against Islam in general.

A statement by US President George W Bush in which he used the word "crusade" - a term recalling the medieval clash between Christianity and Islam - was seen as causing potential offence.

Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt
Verhofstadt is on his way to meet president Bush
After talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the crisis, Mr Berlusconi said:

"We must be aware of the superiority of our civilisation, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and - in contrast with Islamic countries - respect for religious and political rights, a system that has as its value understanding of diversity and tolerance."

He was then quoted as comparing Islamic terrorism to the anti-globalisation movement, saying that while the former had tried to provoke a violent reaction from the West the latter had tried to make it feel guilty for its economic policy.

'Unstatesmanlike'

Centre-left opposition politicians seized on the comments. Mr Berlinguer said:

"Silvio Berlusconi has gone abroad and launched into eccentric and dangerous calls for conflict between civilisations... using terms that no statesman worthy of the name has used in these recent terrible weeks for humanity."

Communists compared Mr Berlusconi to the prime suspect for the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington.

"The billionaire [Osama] Bin Laden and the billionaire Berlusconi are cut from the same anti-communist cloth," party spokesman Alfio Nicotra said.

"They both represent fundamentalism - one of the markets, the other of religion."

See also:

04 Aug 01 | Europe
Berlusconi seeks summit transfer
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