Italy's 5-Star Movement under pressure over gaffes

Tue Mar 5, 2013 9:08am EST

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By James Mackenzie

ROME, March 5 (Reuters) - The political novices of Italy's 5-Star Movement had an early taste on Tuesday of the pressure from a hungry media pack when one official created a storm by defending fascism and another had to beg journalists not to ask for interviews.

Roberta Lombardi, the newly appointed 5-Star leader in the lower house of parliament, was singled out on Tuesday for a blog post she wrote in January that praised some aspects of the fascist movement of wartime dictator Benito Mussolini.

In the post from Jan. 23, Lombardi wrote of "the ideology of fascism, which, before it degenerated, had a socialist-inspired sense of national community and a very high regard for the state and the protection of the family".

The comment made the front pages of most of the big daily newspapers, prompting Lombardi, a 39-year-old employee of an interior decoration firm, to issue a separate statement declaring she was dumbfounded by the "exploitation" of the comment.

"What was expressed was an exclusively historical analysis of this political period, which I naturally condemn," she wrote on her blog on Tuesday.

Similar comments in January by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at a ceremony commemorating victims of the Nazi Holocaust drew outrage from across the political spectrum.

Separately, Lombardi's colleague Vito Crimi, party leader in the Senate, backtracked from comments on Monday that appeared to suggest the 5-Star Movement could back a technocrat government like the one led by outgoing prime minister Mario Monti.

On Tuesday an entry on his Facebook page said he had been misinterpreted: "I never spoke about support for a technocrat government," he wrote, adding that the movement's programme was perfectly clear and he would not comment further.

"Today and tomorrow I will not respond to any journalists," he wrote. "Please respect my wishes and do not ask for interviews or radio and television appearances."

NOVICES

The 5-Star Movement rode a wave of public anger against a discredited political system to win more than a quarter of votes in its first general election, creating one of the biggest upsets in recent Italian history.

But the two incidents, a day after the officials were appointed to their senior roles, underlined the risks facing the group, whose 163 political beginners now make up the third-biggest bloc in parliament.

Media interest has been intense and a scrum of reporters invariably trails the movement's founder Beppe Grillo, who has so far been the only public face of a movement that is deeply suspicious of the mainstream press.

The new parliamentarians, none of whom have any significant experience in public life, will now face intense media scrutiny.

The new deputies and senators faced some press and Internet mockery over the earnest and unpolished tone many struck during a meeting on Monday at which they introduced themselves to their colleagues and the general public.

A Twitter hashtag called "ciaosono" ("HiI'm") satirised the presentations, which were broadcast live over an online feed.

One read: "Hi, I'm Simona, I have a degree and I'm unemployed. I bend over backwards to manage my monthly budget and I want to be economy minister."

Grillo himself, who has so far controlled the communication of 5-Star policy almost exclusively through his blog, warned of the media pressure the movement's new lawmakers will face.

"It's clear we're going to be under assault from the communications point of view, they're going to be hot for anything," Grillo told the meeting.

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