ITALY: Prime Minister Expects 100,000 Protestors at G-8 Summit

Publisher Name: 
New York Times

ROME, June 18 -- Worried about a repetition in Italy of the violent protests
that occurred at a European Union meeting in Sweden last weekend, Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi said today that he wanted to open a dialogue
with demonstrators who are planning to march at the Group of 8 summit
meeting in Genoa next month.

In a maiden speech before the Italian Parliament to present the goals of
his new government, the prime minister also had to deal with a continuing
debate about his extensive media holdings. A conflict-of- interest debate
that began after his speech will end with a confidence vote in the Senate
on Wednesday.

But today, Mr. Berlusconi seemed more preoccupied with how his government
would deal with the next major international meeting when more than 100,000
anti-globalization demonstrators are expected to converge on the medieval
port city.

Mr. Berlusconi, like other leaders, was alarmed by fierce clashes between
anti-globalization demonstrators and the riot police in Goteborg, Sweden,
last week. Concerned that something similar or worse could happen when
he plays host to President Bush and other world leaders on July 20-22, he
met with his interior minister on Saturday to review security measures.

Clearly worried that his government might be blamed for any violence in
Genoa, Mr. Berlusconi went on the offensive, telling reporters that any
problems there would be "the responsibility of the preceding governments."
Genoa was selected as the site for the meeting in 1999, when Massimo
D'Alema was prime minister. But when the issue came up for a vote in
Parliament last year, Mr. Berlusconi's center-right opposition also voted
in favor of Genoa.

Although Mr. Berlusconi wants to open a dialogue with the protesters, few
expect him to be able to soften their attitudes. "No dialogue, no
participation in fake negotiating tables," Luca Casarini, a leader of an
Italian anti-globalization group, said today in the Milan newspaper
Corriere della Sera. "After Seattle, the point is to block the meetings,
not tame them."

Even inside Parliament, there were signs of defiance. Hard-line Italian
Communists view the summit meeting as an elitist club that undermines the
United Nations General Assembly. As Mr. Berlusconi spoke, a few Communist
lawmakers held up red signs saying, "No to the G-8."

Members of Parliament also reacted to the prime minister's defiant tone in
announcing a draft law to resolve potential conflicts of interest involving
his media companies.

"The situation I find myself in was well known to the 18 million Italians
who voted for me," said Mr. Berlusconi, a conservative media tycoon who
owns Italy's three largest television networks. He said he would propose a
law before the summer recess, but added, "My history as a communications
entrepreneur and my personal conscience permit no one to suspect that my
institutional goals would be contrary to the common good."

That phrase drew scattered applause, and some hissing.

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