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Monday, 20 March, 2000, 18:00 GMT
Italy recognises Buddhists and Jehovah's Witnesses

The Italian government has for the first time formally recognised Buddhists and Jehovah's Witnesses as belonging to organised religions.

This will allow the two faiths to establish their own schools and benefit from a scheme under which Italians can choose to pay a percentage of their income tax to officially-recognised religions.

The Italian Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, said the agreement highlighted the importance of integrating different ethnic backgrounds, traditions, cultures and religions into modern society. The Buddhist representative, Elsa Bianco, described the day as historic because it was the first agreement of its kind in Italy to be signed with a religion outside the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The Italian parliament still needs to ratify the agreement.

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