Bilingual blog on the vote
Berlusconi, allies beef up rhetoric on illegal immigration
At a campaign rally next to the Colosseum in Rome on Thursday evening, Silvio Berlusconi and his allies spoke out against illegal immigration and vowed to make stamping it out a priority if elected.
At times the rhetoric was vehement — and then drew some of the loudest cheers of the night.
Their hardline stance may be partly because they fear losing votes to Franceso Storace’s right-wing party “La Destra” (The Right). The party’s candidate for prime minister, the feisty Daniela Santanche, this week had a high-profile clash with Berlusconi on women’s issues.
Alfredo Antoniozzi, running for president of the province of Rome, kicked things off at Thursday’s rally, complaining that so-called “clandestini” were “infesting” Italy’s streets. Rome mayor candidate Gianni Alemanno pledged to expel 20,000 illegal immigrants immediately on taking office: “We want to feel like masters in our own home! We want to liberate Rome from this degradation!”
Alemanno belongs to the Alleanza Nazionale party, which traces its roots to Italian fascism. (The grandaughter of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, Alessandra Mussolini, appeared on stage in the latter part of the rally.)
Alleanza leader Gianfranco Fini promised that if Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party wins the election, the law would be changed to make sure that expulsions of illegal immigrants were actually carried out.
Rules on immigration are enshrined in a law that bears Fini’s name and that of Umberto Bossi, the leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League that is also allied to Berlusconi.
(Reuters colleague Gilles Castonguay wrote a great blog about the Northern League’s anti-immigrant campaign last week.)
When Berlusconi finally took to the stage, after a stirring rendition of the Italian national anthem, he accused his centre-left rivals of opening Italy’s borders and allowing in large numbers of illegal immigrants. This had gravely compromised the safety of Italy’s streets and could not be tolerated any longer, he said.
One of the biggest laughs of the evening came when Berlusconi suggested his centre-left rival Walter Veltroni emigrate to Africa.