Sun, Jul 13, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Embattled Italian minister hands in resignation to PM


An Italian minister under fire for describing Germans as loud "hyper-nationalistic blondes" and arrogant beer guzzlers offered to resign on Friday, a government source said.

"Stefano Stefani has not given his resignation to the industry minister, but directly to [Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi," the source, who asked not to be named, said.

"On Monday he should formalize his resignation in a letter to the industry ministry. However, talk of his resignation was in the air. It did not come as a surprise," the source added.

It was not immediately known whether Berlusconi had accepted the resignation.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder had said Stefani, a junior minister responsible for tourism, deserved to be fired for insults that strained German-Italian relations.

Stefani had said last week Germans were "indoctrinated from the beginning to feel top of the class whatever the situation," people who "loudly invaded" Italian beaches, guzzled beer and engage in "noisy burping contests."

Schroeder, who cancelled his summer holiday to Italy this year following Stefani's remarks, would not comment on the resignation offer but vowed to spend his vacation next year in Italy, his spokesman said in a statement.

The junior Italian minister publicly apologized for his remarks in yesterday's edition of the German newspaper Bild.

"I love Germany," Stefani said in a statement to be published in Bild. "If my words caused a misunderstanding for many Germans I would like to say here that I am very sorry."

In a remarkable about-face just days after first refusing to apologize, Stefani also told the daily -- that had made the obscure politician a household name in both countries -- that he never intended to hurt anyone's feelings.

His comments last week came after Berlusconi compared a German politician to a Nazi concentration camp guard, which opened the dispute.

After Schroeder cancelled his annual two-week summer holiday to Italy because of Stefani, which raised the level of the tabloid-fuelled dispute to a new peak, the chancellor said the junior minister responsible for tourism deserved to be sacked.

"If a leading politician serves mindless prejudices against my people, then a line has to be drawn somewhere," Schroeder said in an interview with German television, when asked why he had cancelled his summer holiday.

"In my government, he wouldn't have survived an hour in his job as state secretary," added Schroeder.

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini described Stefani, a member of the populist Northern League party which is a core member of Berlusconi's coalition, as "an idiot" on Friday.

"It's really not normal to me that he's still in his position," Fini, the leader of the right-wing National Alliance party, told reporters in Italy.

Schroeder, who is an unabashed fan of Italian cuisine, said was still a great admirer of all things Italian.

"He will definitely spend his summer holiday with his friends in Italy next year with his wife and family," his spokesman Bela Anda said.

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