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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 13:45 GMT
Tragedy of a death foretold
Flowers outside Mr Biagi's house
No protection was assigned to Mr Biagi in his hometown of Bologna
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By Paola Buonadonna

The Italian papers are in full "whodunnit" mode, following the death of Professor Mario Biagi, a top adviser to the labour minister.

Mr Biagi
Mr Biagi had transcripts of threatening phonecalls
But reporters and columnists aren't concentrating so much on the murderers themselves.

There seems to be little doubt that a new cell linked to the Red Brigades pulled the trigger, with the same gun, the authorities say, used for the murder of another government adviser, Massimo D'Antoni, three years ago.

The focus of the polemic raging in the country is why Mr Biagi was not travelling with an escort despite having expressed fears for his safety.

Seeking protection

Mr Biagi had helped draft the proposal for the unpopular labour reforms the government of Silvio Berlusconi is planning to implement soon.

With a general strike planned for next month, he knew he was a potential target and felt vulnerable, say commentators from both sides of the political divide.

Roberto Maroni
Roberto Maroni: Asked for an escort for Mr Biagi
Mr Biagi even took the sadly prophetic step of depositing with his lawyer a sealed document containing transcripts of the threatening phone calls he received, and details of his attempts to get protection.

These make chilling reading.

After a brief period under escort, when his special agents were taken away in June last year, an anonymous caller taunted him: "Now you're left without your angels".

When Mr Biagi was granted protection, this was limited to his days spent in Rome.

No police agent was ever assigned to him in Bologna, his home town, where he often went to see his family and where he was finally gunned down, a few yards from his front door.

In the circumstances, many borrow from Gabriel Garcia Marquez and call the story behind the killing a "chronicle of a death foretold".

State funeral refused

The argument is replayed in the highest political circles: Labour Minister Roberto Maroni maintains he did request an escort for his advisor.

The victim is promptly transformed into a state martyr

During an emergency cabinet meeting he lambasted the Interior Minister, Claudio Scajola for not responding to the request.

It would appear this request had never reached the Interior Ministry.

Many journalists depict with barely suppressed glee the scene that followed: many ministers reportedly raised their hands to point out they too are without escort.

The cost-cutting drive of the centre-right government appears to have backfired somewhat, but it's not the ministers who are taking the bullet.

And like every "death foretold" - and Italy has had a few in the bloody years of left-wing and right-wing extremism - the victim is promptly transformed into a state martyr.

State funerals were announced for Mr Biagi without apparently consulting the family.

His widow, a fellow university professor, has rejected the pomp and fanfare.

She is not even sure she wants the funeral in native Bologna, anxious that her very private grief should not be turned into a political football match.

But it's too late for that.

Umberto Bossi, the Nothern League leader and the government's Minister of Reform, has already accused the left of legitimising extremism.

Mr Berlusconi himself has appealed to the unions to cancel the planned general strike against the hire-and-fire legislation.

This prompted Giorgio Bocca, the father of all Italian columnists and no left-winger, to implore that the threat of terror should not be allowed to kill democratic dialogue.

Paola Buonadonna is an Italian journalist living in London, and a reporter for BBC television's On the Record programme.

See also:

03 Mar 02 | Europe
Italy's left confronts Berlusconi
03 Jun 00 | Europe
Red Brigades fugitive arrested
13 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Italy
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