The Italian government approved plans on Friday to mark the 150th anniversary of national unification with a public holiday, despite objections from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's pro-devolution coalition allies.
Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa said the cabinet had voted to declare a national holiday on March 17 -- the date on which Vittorio Emanuele II was declared King of Italy by the newly constituted national parliament in 1861.
But in a sign of how sensitive the issue remains even a century and a half later, he said the two ministers from the Northern League party present at the meeting had voted against the move, which has been hotly debated for weeks.
"It's pure madness," said Roberto Calderoli, one of the two Northern League senior ministers who voted against it. "If we want to really kickstart growth in this country, we would have done the exact opposite wtih today's decree."
The Northern League has campaigned for the creation of a separate region for the prosperous north, which it says has been held back by the inefficient and frequently corrupt south. Party leaders make a tradition of sniping against the capital Rome.
The party, whose support is vital to the survival of Berlusconi's centre-right coalition government, is pushing for federalist reforms that would boost regional powers.
Even outside the ranks of the League, enthusiasm for the holiday has been lukewarm with the education minister fretting over schoolchildren missing out on lessons for the day and business groups worried about lost production.
To make up for the working day lost on March 17, armed forces day on Nov. 4, which marks the end of World War One for Italy, will not be a holiday, La Russa said.
The squabbling was briefly overshadowed by an outpouring of national praise for Oscar-winning actor Roberto Benigni, whose moving rendition of the national anthem at the San Remo music festival on Thursday was credited with awakening patriotism.
The Vatican newspaper, the Italian president and politicians from the right and left hailed the performance, which drew more than 18 million television viewers. It began with Benigni riding in on a white horse and waving the Italian flag.
"I have never loved the anthem. I always thought it had gone out of fashion, a song that smelled of mothballs," said leftist leader Nichi Vendola. "But yesterday Benigni made me understand that there's real civic passion in those gloomy verses."
ReutersLast Mod: 19 Şubat 2011, 16:27