Italy ministers hit out at unions
ROME, Italy -- The increasingly strained relations between Italy's government and unions has broken out into open warfare as ministers accused the largest labour group of being moral accomplices in the murder of a prominent aide.
Reforms Minister Umberto Bossi accused the left of complicity in the murder of Marco Biagi, the adviser gunned down last week by an offshoot of the Red Brigades guerrilla group.
"The left is cunning. First they killed him...then they take advantage of his death," the outspoken leader of the Northern League told Il Messaggero newspaper.
Junior Labour Minister Maurizio Sacconi went further, telling La Stampa newspaper that Biagi's death was facilitated by "extremists" in the unions.
On Saturday an estimated one million people gathered on Rome's streets as part of an anti-government protest organised by the CGIL union (Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro).
The protesters denounced Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's plans to reform decades-old labour laws.
Defence Minister Antonio Martino condemned the rally as an attempt to pervert the power of parliament.
The CGIL union said it was considering legal action against Martino, Bossi and Sacconi and called for Berlusconi to lead a public apology.
It also said it would boycott joint government and union negotiations planned for Tuesday to discuss anti-terror measures and review the labour market overhaul.
Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi has appealed for calm and a return to dialogue, although the unions are threatening a general strike in April.
The war of words highlighted the breakdown in relations between Berlusconi's centre-right coalition and the centre-left, with employment reform the focal point of their conflict.
Biagi, a professor at the University of Modena and an adviser to the European Commission in employment and social affairs, was a strong proponent and one of the authors of controversial labour reforms.
The scope of Saturday's protest was widened at the last minute to include a condemnation of his murder.
The Red Brigades, in a statement, said Biagi was "executed" because his work as a consultant to the labour minister made him part of a government that "represents the interests of bourgeois imperialism."
Berlusconi's government said reform is necessary to create more jobs in a flexible labour market and bring Italy into line with the rest of Europe.
Unions say the reforms violate workers' rights enshrined in a 1970 law and will make it easier for firms to fire staff.
The main issue of contention is focused on Article 18 -- a clause that says workers must be reinstated if they are fired without "just cause."
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