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Europe

Berlusconi Expresses Regret over Nazi Gibe

In a heated diplomatic row, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has apologized to the German chancellor following remarks comparing a German politician to a concentration camp guard.

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Berlusconi apologized to the German chancellor on the phone on Thursday


German chancellor Gerhard Schröder said on Thursday he had accepted Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's "regret" for comparing a German politician to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

"He expressed regret for the choice of this expression and
comparison. I explained to him that as far as I am concerned this ends the affair," Schröder announced at a brief news conference following a telephone conversation with Berlusconi earlier in the day.

Schröder had demanded a full apology from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for his "totally unacceptable" Nazi taunt to a German member of the European Parliament made in the European Parliament on Wednesday.

Schröder called the remark, in which Berlusconi claimed MEP Martin Schulz would be perfect for a film role as a Nazi guard "a mistake in form and content". To applause from the German parliament, Schröder said he expected Berlusconi to "apologize fully for this unacceptable comparison".

Outrage at home and abroad

Berlusconi caused an uproar in the European Parliament on Wednesday when he made the remarks following comments by Schulz, who had repeatedly criticized the Italian prime minister for his use of an immunity law to sidestep bribery charges in a Milan court.

The incident triggered a diplomatic row between the two countries.

Schröder's office immediately summoned the Italian ambassador to Berlin and the Italian Foreign Ministry responded by summoning the German envoy to condemn the comments made by Schulz, saying he had made an "unacceptable offence" to Berlusconi.

In addition, the issue has fuelled widely-held concerns over Berlusconi's ability to provide EU leadership at a time when the union faces unprecedented challenges, including the securing of an agreement over the draft European constitution and the healing of the transatlantic rift. Italy took up the rotating EU presidency on July 1.

Raw feelings

Schröder said on Thursday that he hoped Italy's EU presidency would get back on track and that any further steps that might be taken over the affair were now the responsibility of the European Parliament. "I expressed my hope that everybody must concentrate on making sure that Europe moves forward with its business," he said.

However, the dispute is far from over and feelings are still raw.
"Given the major sensitivities involved it would have been better for Berlusconi to withdraw the remark immediately," the Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told Dutch news agency ANP. "It is a sensitive issue and could hurt people."


The Luxembourg government said Prime Minister Jean-Claude
Juncker was "shocked" by what it described as Berlusconi's
unacceptable comments.

And at a meeting in Strasbourg, tensions rose as European Parliament leaders failed to agree at an emergency
meeting to demand that Berlusconi make amends.

Still highly sensitive topic

Germany is still highly sensitive about its Nazi past.

Last year, a remark made by the then Justice Minister Herta Däubler-Gmelin comparing President Bush's policies on Iraq to methods adopted by Adolf Hitler sparked outrage both at home and abroad, leading to the further souring of relations between the United States and Germany.

Also last year, a remark made by former conservative chancellor Helmut Kohl for likening the Social Democrat speaker of German parliament to the president of the Nazi-dominated Reichstag, Hermann Goering, sparked a public dispute with Schröder demanding an apology.

And Roland Koch, hardline conservative premier of the German state Hesse, caused outrage when, during a debate on federal government plans to introduce a wealth tax, he said that rich people were being singled out as if they had a "new form of a star on their chest", referring to the Jew's suffering under Hitler.

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