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Nude statue diplomacy angers Italian social media

Following the news that nude statues were covered in museum during a visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Italian social media users express their anger against a gesture seen as direspectful of their culture.

Italian social media users are expressing their anger at the news that nude statues were covered in a Roman museum during a visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, last Monday. The Iranian leader was invited by Matteo Renzi to Rome's Capitoline, after a day of negotiations between the two countries to revive their economic partnership following the lifting of sanctions on Iran. Press photographs of the visit revealed that some statues depicting naked men and women had been covered by wooden panels.

Museum officials told the Italian press it was Renzi's office - who has since declined to comment on the issue - who had asked for these measures, describing them as a gesture of respect for the Iranian delegation's religious sensitivities. The move was immediately criticized by a number of political leaders across the Italian spectrum, shortly followed by social media users, where the hashtag #statue ("statues" in Italian) was among the trending topics on Twitter.

Some, such as Giovannicappucino, worried that Italy's is too easily forced to make compromises with visitors: "How sad our country is, whoever comes in gives the orders, that is the truth."

Others, like Elektra, accused Italian authorities of neglecting their own culture: "I believe we Italians should show more respect for our own culture and dignity instead of bowing down."

Rome-based Andrea Enza was among those that took the move as an attack on art itself: "Nudity in art is sacred. All of this is shameful! Those statues should be a source of pride for us!"

Many tweets were directly addressed to Prime Minister Renzi, criticizing his government's eagerness to sign economic deals with Iran. With a wordplay on the title of Sergio Leone's western movie "A fistful of dollars," user AG5stelle implied that the Italian government would do anything for "for a fistful of petrodollars."

Though the bulk of the tweets were critical of both Renzi and the move, some did come out in defense of covering up the statues. "If I invite a vegan for dinner, I cook vegan food. If I invite a Jew or a Muslim, I do not cook pork or horse meat. It's called hospitality," said Goffredo D'Antona, from Sicily.

This is not the first time a visit by the Iranian President in a European country causes confusion over cultural standards. Last November, Rouhani and his delegation were unable to agree with their French counterparts on sitting down with France’s President Francois Hollande for an official meal, because the French authorities would not agree to scrap wine from the menu. French diplomatic protocol dictates that national wines be given to all visitors.

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