World News

Muslims irked by Italian senator's "pig" comments

ROME (Reuters) - A far-right Italian senator outraged Muslims on Thursday by calling for a “Pig Day” protest against the planned construction of a mosque in northern Italy.

Reform Minister Roberto Calderoli looks on in Milan, February 3, 2005. The far-right Italian senator vowed on Thursday to stage a "Pig Day" protest against the planned construction of a mosque in the northern city of Bologna. REUTERS/Loris Savino

Roberto Calderoli of the anti-immigrant Northern League party said he was ready to bring his own pig to “defile” the site where the mosque is due to be built in the northern city of Bologna.

“I am making myself and my pig available for a walk at the site where they want to build the mosque,” Calderoli, who is a deputy speaker of Italy’s Senate, said in a statement.

Calderoli also said he would eat “a nice plateful of pork chops to show my lack of sympathy for those who consider pork forbidden meat.”

Muslims do not eat pork and consider pigs and their meat too filthy to touch.

“Those words are highly offensive and indecent, especially as they are coming from an Italian lawmaker,” Mario Scialoja, a prominent leader of Italy’s Muslim community, told Reuters. “It left me speechless”.

Tensions flare regularly between communities in predominantly Catholic Italy over the site of new mosques to serve a growing Muslim population.

On Wednesday night, around 20 people staged a protest near the port city of Genoa over the planned construction of a mosque which they said would be offensive because it is near a church.

The protesters, including a priest suspended from the church, prayed the rosary -- which consists of the “Our Father”, “Hail Mary” and “Glory Be” prayers read repeatedly -- despite a call by the country’s most senior Roman Catholic bishop not to do so.

In December 2006, protesters left a severed pig’s head outside a mosque being built in Tuscany.

In July, police arrested an imam on suspicion of leading a terrorism “training school” in a mosque in central Italy.

After that arrest, the Northern League called for all existing mosques -- most in old garages or converted factories and warehouses -- to be closed for security checks.

Calderoli is no stranger to controversy over Islam and is often accused of making racist comments.

Last year, he lost a ministerial post in a centre-right government led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for wearing a T-shirt with cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad offensive to Muslims.