Berlusconi defends tactics of riot police
By Bruce Johnston in Rome
SILVIO BERLUSCONI, the Italian premier, was heckled in parliament yesterday as he defended the heavy-handed response to the protests at the G8 summit in Genoa.
His appearance was overshadowed by widespread allegations of police brutality and the worst violence at a summit since anti-globalisation protesters first mobilised two years ago.
One protester was killed by police, 500 people were injured, including five Britons, 350 people were arrested, and an estimated £30 million damage caused to property.
The violence was led by a small number of anarchists who attached themselves to peaceful protests which they then hijacked and steered into confrontation with the security forces.
Mr Berlusconi told senators yesterday: "We found ourselves faced with protests that grew in intensity and numbers that grew beyond all expectations.
He said:"As a result it was necessary to intervene in such a way as to guarantee the maximum security for all the delegations."
He said there would be "no cover-up" if claims of brutality against many of those who were held in custody during the summit were true.
Mr Berlusconi said he regretted the violence, but blamed this on a small minority of extremist protesters.
He said that "the people who attacked the law and those who defended it must never ever be confused".
As soon as Mr Berlusconi began to speak, blaming the former centre-Left government's poor preparations, for the security nightmare, his words were drowned by cat-calls.
Later, he came under renewed opposition pressure to open a parliamentary inquiry into the rioting and police tactics during the summit.
Willer Bordon, a Centrist former minister, reacted to Mr Berlusconi's address by saying: "I feel embarrassed by the unacceptable lightness of his speech."
He added: "We want to know why you were weak with the strong, and strong with the weak, and continue to refuse calling a parliamentary inquiry."
He was referring to accusations that police focused on the peaceful protesters in their crackdown, allowing anarchists to initiate violence.
Claims that police beat senseless many of the 93 mainly foreign protesters, including four Britons, whom they surprised in their sleep in a Genoa school have overshadowed domestic politics all this week.
But they are now also affecting Italy's relations with at least three other G8 countries, including Britain.
Inspired by growing international complaints, and hostile coverage in the foreign press, one opposition MP claimed Italy's image abroad was being harmed.
Italian opinion is in favour of how security was handled, but Corriere della Sera argued yesterday that Mr Berlusconi's stance was harming his credibility at home.
During yesterday's address, which he delivered with the help of notes, often with one hand in his pocket, Mr Berlusconi sometimes appeared glib, and spent most of his time arguing that the G8 had largely been a "political and diplomatic success".
He also argued against calls by other governments for G8 summits to stop being held because of violence.