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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 February 2006, 00:59 GMT
Italy minister stirs cartoon row
By David Willey
BBC News, Rome

Roberto Calderoli with PM Silvio Berlusconi (right)
The remarks by Roberto Calderoli (left) may embarrass his boss
An Italian government minister says he is distributing T-shirts displaying controversial cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad.

Roberto Calderoli, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, is minister without portfolio for institutional reform and devolution.

His remarks are likely to be seen as provocative by Muslim organisations.

They could also prove a serious diplomatic embarrassment to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's coalition.

Mr Calderoli's comments were made in an interview with the leading Italian news agency, Ansa.

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The minister is quoted as saying: "I've had T-shirts made with the cartoons that have upset Islam and I shall start wearing them today."

He added that it was "time to put an end to this story that we need to dialogue with these people", and asked: "What have we become, the civilisation of melted butter?"

The remarks could prove embarrassing to Mr Berlusconi, at the start of what promises to be a bitterly contested general election campaign.

The Italian ambassador to Libya has already been forced to distance his government from some of Mr Calderoli's previous remarks.

Official government policy is expressed only by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who wants dialogue not confrontation with Islam, the ambassador to Tripoli said.

Italy's Northern League, of which Mr Calderoli is a leading member, is expected to get about 6% of the vote in the forthcoming general election.

Their anti-immigrant election platform has gained them support in the industrial north of the country where the League accuses immigrants of stealing jobs from Italians and being responsible for growing crime rates.

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