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Tuesday, 2 October, 2001, 21:05 GMT 22:05 UK
Berlusconi hails 'great' Islam
Berlusconi at Senate on day of apology
Berlusconi has already been forced to apologise
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who caused an international furore with his reported comments over "superior" Western civilisation, has hailed Islam as a great religion.

Mr Berlusconi, meeting an Islamic delegation on Tuesday evening, insisted he was misquoted, and told them of his "deep respect" for Islam.

The prime minister (has a) deep respect for Islam, a great religion with more than one billion followers which preaches tolerance (and) the respect of human rights

Statement from Silvio Berlusconi's office
The right-wing leader had been quoted as saying that Western civilisation was superior to Islamic civilisation, because it had "guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and - in contrast with Islamic countries - respect for religious and political rights".

In an interview published on Tuesday in the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, Mr Berlusconi said his remarks had been distorted by left-wing opponents.

"I did not say anything against the Islamic civilisation," he was quoted as saying.

Senior delegation

"It's the work of some people in the Italian leftist press who wanted to tarnish my image and destroy my long-standing relations with Arabs and Muslims."

Mr Berlusconi met ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Senegal, Pakistan, Tunisia, Indonesia and the Palestinian Authority, and the head of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Rome at Chigi Palace, the premier's office.

Mr Berlusconi's remarks brought a storm of condemnation from the European Union and the US, where it was feared they would wreck the already tricky task of building support for America's planned response to the 11 September attacks.

We do not think that his apology is sufficient

Arab League leader Amr Mussa
Despite his apology in the Italian Senate last week, his reported remarks have continued to cause outrage.

"We do not think that his apology is sufficient," said the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Mussa.

"It is important that Berlusconi withdraws them entirely."

Egyptian Government newspaper Al-Akhbar also said Mr Berlusconi's apology had failed to soothe Muslim anger.

The BBC's David Willey
"The Italian prime minister expressed his profound respect"
Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi (in Italian)
"We should not put the two civilisations on the same level"
See also:

02 Oct 01 | Europe
US warns of Italy terror attack
28 Sep 01 | Europe
Berlusconi regrets Islam jibe
27 Sep 01 | Middle East
Arabs demand Berlusconi apology
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