- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 3, 2003

From combined dispatches

BERLIN — Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi expressed “regret” to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder yesterday for saying a German member of the European Parliament would make a good Nazi concentration camp guard in a movie.

Mr. Schroeder, whose justice minister last year compared President Bush to Hitler, said his telephone conversation yesterday with Mr. Berlusconi ended a diplomatic crisis over the comments.

The Italian leader made his comments during an appearance Wednesday to mark the start of Italy’s six-month presidency of the European Union.

Mr. Berlusconi’s remarks yesterday — which his office characterized somewhat differently than Mr. Schroeder did — stopped short of an apology.

Mr. Berlusconi’s office said he had spoken by telephone to Mr. Schroeder about the “grave offenses” that he had received a day earlier from a German member of the European Parliament.

“The Italian prime minister has reiterated what was already expressed yesterday, which was his regret for the fact that somebody might have misunderstood the sense of a joke that was only meant to be ironic,” the statement said.

Mr. Schroeder, who earlier yesterday had demanded an apology from the Italian prime minister, said Mr. Berlusconi had “expressed his regret about the choice of this expression and comparison.”

“I told him that for me the matter was closed,” Mr. Schroeder told reporters.

The uproar was front-page news yesterday in Italy and Germany, where commentators across the political spectrum condemned Mr. Berlusconi and questioned his fitness to speak for Europe.

The German government was infuriated by Mr. Berlusconi’s jibe, which was directed at Martin Schulz, a Social Democratic member of the European Parliament.

During a question-and-answer session at the parliament, Mr. Schulz referred to the Italian leader’s use of an immunity law to sidestep bribery charges in an Italian court.

“Mister Schulz, I know there is a producer in Italy who is making a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I will suggest you for the role of kapo,” Mr. Berlusconi snapped back. “You’d be perfect.”

The German word “kapo” is usually taken to mean a concentration camp guard drawn from the ranks of the prisoners.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Schroeder called the comments “completely unacceptable” and demanded an apology. Mr. Berlusconi blamed his leftist opponents in Italy for creating an atmosphere that led to the exchange.

Mr. Schulz said in an interview yesterday in the Italian daily La Stampa that he rejected Mr. Berlusconi’s explanation that the remark was meant to be lighthearted. “Suffice it to say that Berlusconi would do best to resign,” he told the newspaper.

In September, German Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, in discussing U.S. policy on Iraq, said: “Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problem. It’s a classic tactic. It’s one that Hitler used.”

Mr. Schroeder subsequently removed Mrs. Daeubler-Gmelin from his Cabinet.

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