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Tuesday, 5 February, 2002, 20:13 GMT
Italy Senate votes for royals' return
The Italian Royal family in 1945
The family was tainted by its collaboration with Mussolini
By the BBC's Frances Kennedy in Rome

The Italian Senate has voted by an overwhelming majority in favour of lifting a constitutional ban that prevents the male heirs of the former royal family from entering the country.

The vote was the first in a series of four required in parliament by the country's constitution.

Vote results shown on an electric board in the Senate
The Senate voted overwhelmingly in favour of the return
At the end of World War II, Italians voted for a republic rather than a monarchy, and the new constitution declared that the descendants of Vittorio Emanuele, the Savoy King who had collaborated with Mussolini and approved the race laws against the Jews, were banned from Italian soil.

The Savoy family, who live in exile in Switzerland, have been lobbying for years to return.

The current government has endorsed their appeal.

Most of the opposition senators also approved the change with only a handful of small parties voting against or abstaining.

The series of four votes is likely to take some weeks, but there is unlikely to be any significant change in position.

Tide turning

The constitutional ban essentially concerns two men: the 64-year-old Vittorio Emanuele, who is the grandson of the disgraced wartime monarch and son of Italy's last King, Umberto, and his son, Emanuele Filiberto, a handsome young banker with a playboy reputation.

For years their appeals to return to Italy were ignored by the conservative parties and fiercely opposed by the Italian left.

Crown Prince Filiberto
Crown Prince Filiberto manages hedge funds at a bank in Switzerland

Over the last decade that has changed, although the Savoy heirs have always refused requests to swear an oath of loyalty to the constitution and they have not always helped their own cause.

In 1997 the government led by Romano Prodi was moving to lift the ban when Vittorio Emanuele said in an interview that the racial laws co-signed by his grandfather were not so bad and he saw no reason to apologise.

He has also irritated the Italian establishment by taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Outmoded

But two days ago, Vittorio Emanuele wrote a letter in which he and his son affirmed their loyalty to the Italian constitution and its president - a gesture that has been appreciated even by his critics.

Vittorio Emanuele, who followed the debate from the family home in Switzerland, said he was relieved and thanked the Italian left for voting for justice.

An opinion poll released on Tuesday showed that nearly 80% of Italians thought the ban was outdated.

The republic faces no threat from would-be claimants to a throne.

Even the Savoys' critics say that keeping them in exile gives them more importance than they deserve.

But the re-entry of the Savoys is likely raise some tricky legal questions about confiscated goods and properties.

See also:

02 Aug 01 | Europe
Doors open to Italy's royals
07 Nov 00 | Europe
Danish Queen Mother dies
15 Oct 00 | Europe
Crown Prince arrives in Serbia
18 Jun 01 | Europe
East European royalty in exile
28 Jan 01 | Europe
Italy's last queen dies
13 Jul 01 | Europe
Yugoslav royals allowed home
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