Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) — Italian Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli resigned after a mob attacked an Italian consulate in Libya yesterday over a T-shirt worn by the minister that was printed with a Danish cartoon depicting the prophet Muhammad.
Calderoli, 49, had the T-shirts printed with the cartoons earlier this week and wore one on an Italian television talk show Feb. 14. He said the shirts weren’t meant to provoke Muslims, but instead to invite “real dialogue.”
“Senator Calderoli’s position isn’t that of the government and it’s evidently incompatible with an institutional role,” said Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in a statement on the government’s Web site today. “I respect all faiths and support dialogue between religions and civilizations,” he said.
The attack in Benghazi, Libya, involving about 1,000 protesters, was the latest outbreak of violence around the world in protest at the satirical drawings. Police killed eleven of the protesters in Libya, Corriere della Sera reported today.
Berlusconi expressed his sorrow for the victims in a telephone conversation today with Libyan leader Muhammar Qadaffi, whom he thanked for the work of security forces that brought the consulate’s six employees to safety, according to a statement on Italy’s government Web site.
The prime minister asked Calderoli to resign late yesterday, which the leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, the smallest of Italy’s four coalition parties, initially refused to do.
`What’s at Stake’
“I don’t intend to allow the shameful manipulation used against me and the Northern League to continue,” said Calderoli in a resignation statement today, confirmed by his spokeswoman.
“I may even be sorry for the victims, but what happened in Libya has nothing to do with my T-shirt,” Calderoli was quoted as saying in la Repubblica today. “That’s not what’s at stake. What’s at stake is Western civilization.”
“It’s time to stop making up stories about looking for dialogue with these people,” Calderoli said on Feb. 14, adding it was “hypocritical” to distinguish between “terrorist Islam and pacifist Islam.”
The Danish cartoons satirizing Islam’s prophet Muhammad have sparked protests in countries including Pakistan, Iran and Indonesia. Today in Nigeria, Muslims looted and burned Christian businesses after police attempted to halt a protest against the publication of the cartoons, Agence France-Presse reported, citing witnesses. In London, Muslims protested peacefully against the cartoons, Sky News showed.
The resignation of a minister and leader of a key ally in the four-way coalition less than two months before Italy’s national election is a setback for Berlusconi. The premier’s coalition trails the opposition bloc led by Romano Prodi by between 4 and 5 percentage points, independent polls show.
Italian prime ministers don’t have the power to fire ministers. Berlusconi was forced to abandon a campaign dinner in Perugia, Italy, yesterday after being informed of the attacks, calling an emergency meeting of the government in Rome during the night.
Opposition leader Prodi called on Calderoli’s “immediate resignation” this morning, saying it’s unacceptable that a government minister insult Islam, Ansa news agency reported. The leader of the opposition Refounded Communist party, Fausto Bertinotti, called on the whole government to resign because of “manifest incompetence,” Ansa said.
Muslims in the Middle East, Africa and Asia have burned Danish flags and attacked embassies in protest against the cartoons, one of which depicted Muhammad wearing a bomb in place of a turban. Islam prohibits images that insult the prophet.
Calderoli, who last year called for Italy to abolish the euro and reintroduce the lira, had been Reforms Minister since July 2004, when he was appointed to replace the leader of the Northern League, Umberto Bossi, who’d had a stroke.