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Last Updated: Friday, 23 September 2005, 09:07 GMT 10:07 UK
Milan Muslim school row escalates
By Mark Duff
BBC News, Milan

Pupils attend class outside Muslim school in Milan
The authorities want the children to go to state schools
Members of the Northern League - a key party in Italy's ruling coalition - are threatening to protest outside a controversial Muslim school in Milan.

The row over the school - closed down by the authorities - is testing Italian attitudes to Muslim immigrants.

Parents of the 500 children who attended the school are continuing to demonstrate outside.

Tensions were heightened by the death of a boy, killed by a car as he crossed the road outside the school this week.

The Northern League - a regionally-based party that is vitriolic in its criticism of immigrants, especially Muslims - has scuppered a planned prayer meeting for the boy.

It plans to demonstrate against any compromise which gives ground to the parents, who want help to set up a school where their children can learn Arabic and the Koran alongside the normal state curriculum.

'Nothing to hide'

The school's supporters are unfazed - although they say they will keep a low profile if the League protest does materialise.

The school is in an area of southern Milan known locally as Little Egypt because of its thriving Egyptian community.

A volunteer teacher there said the Northern League had been "very provocative".

"We have nothing to hide, they can carry out as many checks as they like - they'll never be able to say we are doing anything wrong.

"We're here simply to ask for our right to study the Arabic language and nothing more. If they give us this right we won't ask for anything else!"

Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu, meanwhile, has reiterated that the Italian school system can easily accommodate the needs of practising Muslims - but stressed that all schools must meet legal guidelines.

He has also promised that the police will be even-handed with all demonstrators - be they Muslim or members of the Northern League.

It is a pledge that has won him the scorn of League members - who have taken to referring to him, disparagingly, as Ali Abu Pisanu.

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