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Last Updated: Friday, 4 July, 2003, 15:41 GMT 16:41 UK
Berlusconi denies apologising for Nazi jibe
Silvio Berlusconi (left) and Gerhard Schroeder
Berlusconi (left) expressed regret to Schroeder

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has insisted he has not apologised for comparing a German politician to a Nazi guard, saying only that he regretted his words had been misunderstood.

He said the tone of his remark was "in perfect harmony" with the heckling by Martin Schulz, a German member of the European Parliament.

The Italian leader triggered uproar in the parliament on Wednesday, when he suggested Mr Schulz would be perfectly cast as a Nazi concentration camp guard in a forthcoming film.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has said he considered the matter "closed" after Mr Berlusconi told him he regretted the incident.

But the speaker of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, said Mr Berlusconi should apologise to parliamentary members as the incident "happened on the floor of the European Parliament, not in Berlin".

"There is a need for clarification by Berlusconi with the European Parliament in order to bring final closure to this matter," Mr Cox's spokesman told Reuters news agency.

Mr Berlusconi indicated that he would not apologise, telling reporters: "As far as the European Parliament is concerned, the situation is the same."

He said he had telephoned Mr Schroeder to express his regret that his comments were "interpreted badly".

"I did not offer apologies," he said. "I expressed regret that what I said in jest and irony was misunderstood."

'Back to business'

Mr Berlusconi repeated his assertion that he had found Mr Schulz's criticism of his business and political conduct insulting and his response was made as a "counter-weight".

He had rounded on Mr Schulz when the MEP referred to an alleged conflict of interest between the political role of Italy's richest man and his extensive media empire.

Views from Rome streets

"I know there is a man producing a film on the Nazi concentration camps," Mr Berlusconi exclaimed. "I shall put you forward for the role of Kapo (guard chosen from among the prisoners) - you would be perfect."

Mr Berlusconi was appearing at a news conference with EU Commission President Romano Prodi - a fellow Italian and his arch-rival - following their first meeting setting out the goals for Italy's six-month presidency.

Mr Berlusconi's outburst has marred the start of Italy's six-month presidency and raised concern over his fitness to lead Europe through a period of enlargement and reform.

The BBC's Rome correspondent, David Willey, says Mr Berlusconi's gaffe continues to reverberate on the domestic Italian political scene.

The state broadcaster, RAI, has been accused by the left-wing opposition of toning down the coverage of Mr Berlusconi's blunder.

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