Italian PM defends Mussolini

Berlusconi allegedly said Mussolini, above, did not kill anyone.
Berlusconi allegedly said Mussolini, above, did not kill anyone.

ROME, Italy -- A Jewish leader says he is saddened by comments allegedly made by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that Fascist leader Benito Mussolini never actually killed anyone.

La Voce di Rimini published the statements, which reportedly came during an interview in which an Italian and a British journalist asked the prime minister if Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein could be compared to Mussolini.

"Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile," The Associated Press reported Berlusconi as saying in the newspaper.

Italian Jewish community president Amos Luzzatto expressed "sadness" over Berlusconi's reported statements, AP said.

"The Fascist regime did not make extermination camps for the Jews, but certainly it contributed to creating them," he told the AGI news agency.

"If killing someone only means hitting an adversary and killing him, then not even Hitler killed anyone. But in that way, we can say that there are no murderers in the world."

Mussolini, who ruled Italy from 1922 until he was ousted in 1943, introduced racial laws from 1938. They resulted in the widespread persecution of Italian Jews.

Nearly 7,000 Jews were deported from Italy during German troops' occupation of northern and central Italy -- 5,910 of whom were killed. Today, there are about 30,000 Italian Jews, mainly living in Rome and Milan.

Historians rejected Berlusconi's comments. Dennis Mack Smith said that while Mussolini was not responsible for as many killings as Hitler or Stalin, he was still a brutal leader, AP reported.

A Mussolini biographer, Richard Bosworth, estimated that at least 1 million people died as a result of his rule, with "atrocious massacres of Libyans, Ethiopians, inhabitants of the ex-Yugoslavia and, after 1943, thousands of Italian Jews," according to Reuters.

The PM clarified his remark to reporters later Thursday. "I didn't accept his comparison, or the comparison of my country to another dictator or another dictatorship, that of Saddam Hussein, which provoked millions of deaths," Berlusconi said at a news conference.

Berlusconi's spontaneous remarks have sometimes got him into trouble. At the European Parliament in July he told a German lawmaker who had criticized him that the man should appear in a movie as a Nazi concentration camp guard.

Berlusconi said the remark was meant as a joke and later expressed "regret."