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Saturday, May 1, 1999 Published at 00:15 GMT 01:15 UK

Italian PM's balancing act

An F-16 lands at Aviano - one of 13 Italian military bases used by Nato

By Rome Correspondent David Willey

While Italy's ex-Communist Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema assures his Nato allies that his government continues to support the bombing of Serbia, his close political allies, the hardline Communists have repeated their threat to bring down his coalition unless he actively supports a diplomatic solution to the Balkan war.

So he continues to perform a delicate balancing act, trying to reassure Italian public opinion - particularly left-wing Catholic opinion, which opposes the war - that he will never send Italian ground troops to fight in Kosovo, while at the same time promising President Clinton that Italy remains completely loyal to Nato.

[ image: Prime Minister D'Alema: a delicate balancing act]
Prime Minister D'Alema: a delicate balancing act
Italy is providing Nato with 13 key military bases for operations against President Milosevic. Without these facilities for Nato warplanes and warships, the alliance's military campaign - both now and in the future - would be in serious jeopardy.

D'Alema's political opponents - and even some of his own supporters - are attempting to whittle away the wide consensus that the Prime Minister has enjoyed during the first month's bombing attacks. One hundred and seventy MPs - including many members of D'Alema's own party - have served notice that they will actively oppose any decision to send in Nato ground forces to Kosovo.

Peace march

Catholics are planning a monster peace march to Assisi - birthplace of Saint Francis - on 16 May. Umberto Bossi, leader of the separatist Northern League, visiting Belgrade at the head of an Italian parliamentary delegation, has criticised Italy's support for Nato, while Armando Cossuta, head of Italy's hardline Communists, another recent visitor to the Yugoslav capital, has threatened to pull the two ministers from his party out of the Rome government.

Meanwhile the effects of the war are already being felt by the Italian economy.

  • Several thousand industrial workers have been laid off in the heel of Italy because of disruption of supplies and lack of orders.

  • The Puglia region was virtually isolated from the rest of Italy for several weeks by the closure of its airports on grounds of military necessity.

  • Tourist cancellations have been reported from all over Italy, and Mediterranean cruises starting from Venice have been suspended until further notice.

  • Fishermen along the Adriatic coast have been protesting that they are losing income because of the closure of their normal fishing grounds by the Nato military.

Police are on high alert for possible acts of terrorism by Slav immigrants. So far only minor anti-US incidents have been reported such as the smashing of windows of chain of American owned video shops in several Italian cities.

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