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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 01:43 GMT
Post-fascist Fini takes EU job
Gianfranco Fini, National Alliance leader
Mr Fini has withdrawn his admiration for Mussolini
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has appointed his post-fascist deputy Gianfranco Fini to represent Rome on a major European reform body, a move widely seen as putting the country onto a collision course with its EU partners.

Mr Fini, who is also the head of the National Alliance - the successor of Benito Mussolini's Fascist movement - is due to be confirmed in his new role on Friday during a meeting of the Italian cabinet.

He has in the past hailed wartime leader Benito Mussolini as a great statesman.

Mr Fini will be the second Italian to sit on the EU Convention, a body charged with preparing the European Union for expanding to include countries in central and eastern Europe.

It is headed by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who was in Rome earlier this month to discuss the government's attitude towards EU development following the resignation of Italy's pro-Europe foreign minister.

Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi has said he likes being foreign minister as well as prime minister
Renato Ruggiero stepped down after criticizing the euroscepticism of his cabinet colleagues, and being branded a mere "technocrat" by Mr Berlusconi, who has now provisionally taken charge of the foreign affairs portfolio.

Correspondents say that the appointment of Mr Fini to the EU Convention is one of two calculated moves: either he is being prepared to take over the job of foreign minister, or it is a consolation prize for not getting the job.

Change of heart

Mr Fini, when asked in 1994 what he thought of Mussolini - Adolf Hitler's ally - said: "I would still say that he was the greatest statesman of the century."

But Mr Fini has now moved quickly to distance himself from the statement, faced with the prospect of an appearance on the European stage.

Pressed on a television show if his feelings towards "Il Duce" remained the same, Mr Fini said that "I would say that today one can't say that for sure."

"Today, I wouldn't say that anymore."

His statement has outraged Mussolini's granddaughter, Alessandra, a member of parliament for Mr Fini's party.

"I don't like politicians who try to warp history for their own ends," she said, and moved over to the benches of the Forza Italia party in protest.

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