Calderoli says T-shirt gesture misunderstood

An Italian minister from an anti-immigrant party who wore a T-shirt that offended Muslims in 2006 said on Friday the gesture was misunderstood and his appointment should not damage relations with Libya.

Roberto Calderoli of the Northern League was appointed this week to the new government of Silvio Berlusconi, who was installed as prime minister for a third term. Berlusconi faced a diplomatic clash with Libya – and possible energy sanctions – after Tripoli made it clear it objected to Calderoli’s appointment.

He quit Berlusconi’s last government in 2006 after wearing a T-shirt showing a Danish cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed that angered Muslims worldwide. He was blamed for rioting that broke out at the Italian consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi.

Calderoli was asked by Italian television about Libya’s angry response to his appointment, and whether he regretted the T-shirt incident. He said he was sorry for the consequences of his act which he said was misinterpreted as anti-Islamic provocation. “Mine was a message of peace and rapprochement between the monotheistic religions but was misunderstood,” he said.

Since the T-shirt incident, Calderoli has continued to offend Muslims in Italy by protesting at the construction of new mosques and threatening “pig day” protests to defile them. He once walked his own pet pig over a site intended for a mosque.

Reuters, 9 May 2008