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Last Updated: Friday, 14 May, 2004, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Italy heralds 'first woman PM'
Italian family home of Sonia Gandhi, in town of Orbassano
Journalists got no response at the Italian family home
Italy is celebrating what could be its first woman prime minister... albeit, prime minister of India.

For Sonia Gandhi, whose election victory could make her India's next leader, was born in northern Italy.

The mayor of her home town of Orbassano, near Turin, offered "warm congratulations" to the woman who married into the Gandhi dynasty.

"Finally - an Italian woman as prime minister," joked Margherita Boniver of the Italian foreign ministry.

The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera proclaimed on its front page: "Italian Sonia Gandhi triumphs."

"Sonia Gandhi: an Italian triumphs in India," said La Repubblica.

Family silent

But the party in Orbassano itself was muted because Mrs Gandhi's family has never commented on her political career.

Sonia married Rajiv Gandhi at the age of 21, after meeting him at Cambridge University.

Both Rajiv and his mother, Indira, became prime minister but were assassinated, leaving Sonia Gandhi as the inheritor of India's greatest modern political dynasty.

As Mrs Gandhi prepared to put together a ruling coalition, the mayor of her home town, Carlo Marroni, said: "Orbassano and its entire administration express their warm congratulations for this victory by our fellow citizen."

Sonia Gandhi

But there was still no word from her family.

"Years ago her family asked that we respect their silence," said an aide to the mayor.

"Her mother and two sisters were upset by the events that had shaken the (Gandhi) family, and they asked that they be left in peace."

"Yes, we are proud, but we also respect the family's desire to be left alone," he added.

Sonia was born Sonia Maino in December 1946.

Impressed

Her father, a building contractor, is now dead, but her mother and two sisters still live in or around Orbassano, a town of 25,000.

Sonia Gandhi's heritage is not well known in Italy, but those who knew about it are impressed with her success in the Indian election.

"It's good that an Italian can get elected in a country that's so far away, and that's culturally so different," said Gilberto Fulvi, a 30-year-old who works in a youth centre.

"Imagine here in Italy, if a foreigner were elected premier," he added.

Mrs Gandhi is an Indian citizen, and said before the election that she did not see her Italian birth as a problem for Indian voters.

She said in a television interview: "I never felt they look at me as a foreigner. Because I'm not. I am Indian."




India votes 2004: Full in-depth coverage here

Cabinet members Old faces return
Gandhi family loyalists back in from the cold, but no fresh blood in cabinet.


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