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IL BRAVEHEART; Wallace is my hero says the new Mussolini.

His admirers call him Signor Braveheart. His enemies says he is the new Mussolini.

Love him or hate him, nobody can ignore firebrand Italian politician Umberto Bossi, who says he was inspired by William Wallace's fight against the English.

Bossi is the leader of the separatist Northern League, which wants to break away from the poorer south of the country.

But the road to freedom has been marked this weekend by riots at a rally in the northern town of Cremona, near Turin.

The trouble flared during a stopover on the party's symbolic three-day "March to the Sea" which began on Friday.

The plan was for a procession along the route of the River Po - culminating in a triumphant declaration of the independent Republic of Padania at a mass rally in Venice today. Bossi, who says the story of Wallace's struggle is the inspiration behind the bid to break from Rome, planned to arrive in Cremona, in the heart of Lombardy, by boat.

But that had to be abandoned due to lowwater level, and he was forced to drive into the town.

More than 1,000 people were gathered for a rally and fireworks show.

But before Bossi could address the crowd, scores of left-wing youths launched an all-out attack on League supporters.

Police used tear gas to bring the situation under control, and more than a dozen people were injured.

The new state Bossi dreams of would have 30 million people and stretch from the Aust- rian border to within 60 miles of Rome.

In Venice, he will de-nounce "Roman colonialism" and invoke the League's two `patron saints' - William Wallace and Gandhi. Bossi is a great admirer of the Scots freedom fighter, and he constantly referred to Mel Gibson's Braveheart movie during Italy's general election in April, when his League won more than 30 per cent of the vote in the North.

He has sent invitations to actors Sean Connery and Mel Gibson to join him at today's ceremony.

The breakaway idea began as a publicity stunt, but has a darker side.

For Bossi has urged his supporters to "oil their Kalashnikovs".

He has threatened to blow up state TV transmitters and told followers not to pay their TV licences.

He has claimed the Italian secret service plans to blow up a bank and blame his party.

He has set up a mock Parliament of the North in Mantua.

Bossi has threatened a "march on Rome" to repeat Mussolini's march up the Appian Way when he seized power in 1922.

He says Southerners will be banned from holding jobs as judges, teachers and police officers in Padania.

Bossi's meetings are policed by stewards in green shirts - the Guardia Nazionale Padania, who have been compared to Fascist blackshirts.

One Italian commen-tator says: "Bossi's followers are thugs."

After trying to ignore him without success, Italian premier Romano Prodi has now warned that he may be prosecuted for violating the constitution.

But Bossi is no fool. The movement he founded little more than a decade ago is now Italy's fourth strongest party.

Asked how serious he is about creating Padania, Bossi says: "Our fantasy is without limit."
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Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:House, Paul
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 15, 1996
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