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Insults fly as Haider leaves Rome

ROME, Italy -- Austrian far-right leader Joerg Haider used the last day of his controversial visit to Rome to launch another attack on Italy's political leaders.

Haider provoked a political row in Italy by saying earlier in the week that the government was soft on immigration.

Haider's visit to Rome, which included a meeting with Pope John Paul II, sparked violent protests which left dozens injured.

In a newspaper interview published less the 24 hours after Saturday's violent protests, Haider said: "If (Prime Minister Giuliano) Amato got nervous and fears my remarks it means he is a weak person.


Pictures from the protests


"I think (President Carlo Azeglio) Ciampi fears to have a discussion with me on the subject because his positions are weak. He and Amato should be less agitated."

Haider's comments, made in an interview on Sunday with La Republica, were the latest attack on the Italian government by the governor of the Austrian province of Carinthia.

Ciampi responded to the earlier remarks by saying Haider was wrong and explaining Italy had always been a country of migration and a humane society.

Haider called Ciampi's response typical of a left-wing politician. That remark in turn prompted Amato to write to Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel to express his government's displeasure.

Italy's government made clear on Sunday how unwelcome any return visit would be.

"Haider's presence in our country is not desirable," Luciano Violante, President of the Chamber of Deputies, said. He pointed to what he called Haider's "rude, discourteous manner" in verbal clashes with Italy's leaders over immigration before and during the trip.

Haider checked out of his hotel at midday, after assisting at a Mass at a church catering for Rome's German-speaking Catholic community.

Violent protests

Haider visited Rome as head of a 250-member Austrian delegation that presented the Pope with a Christmas tree for St. Peter's Square.

"You're protecting a fascist," was the main chant hurled by protesters at the police during Saturday's violent protests.

Police said seven civilians and 26 members of security forces were hurt and seven other people were detained for questioning.

Clashes broke out when police cordoned off the area near the Vatican where Haider attended a ceremony to light up the Christmas tree.

Organisers of the protests said more than 30 protesters were injured, some by police batons, rifle butts and tear gas.

Protest groups included young communists, Greens and other leftists, Jewish community representatives, gays and World War II veterans.

When Jewish shop owners in the city staged their own protest, dimming the lights in their stores, Haider responded by saying: "If they want to save electricity, it's their business."

The speaker of the lower house of parliament, Luciano Violante, called Haider's presence in Italy "not desirable."

Gianfranco Fini, leader of the right National Alliance party, said Haider had pronounced "disgusting sentences," while Silvio Berlusconi, head of the centre-right opposition bloc, has repeatedly said Haider "has nothing to with us."

During his brief audience with The Pope, Haider, who left Rome by car on Sunday, presented John Paul II with a Christmas tree.

"We want this tree to be a sign of peace and reconciliation," Haider said in Italian near the tree just before the lights were lit.

In return, Haider received a papal document condemning racism and xenophobia.

The document was issued to mark the Day of World Peace on January 1, and calls on people to avoid "pathological manifestations," such as "forms of nationalism, racism and xenophobia."

"Immigrants must always be treated with the respect due to the dignity of every human person," the message said.

Pope gives Haider 'warm welcome'
December 16, 2000
Austrian election blow for far-right party
December 3, 2000
Right-wing Austrian minister resigns
November 5, 2000
Haider: 'Get rid of foreigners'
October 22, 2000

Vatican: the Holy See
Italian Foreign Ministry
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