Italy's New Conservative PM Faces Early Challenges

By Maria Kalafati | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Athens ( - Concerned about a possible repetition of violent anti-globalization protests at a G8 summit planned for Genoa next month, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi says he wants to open a dialogue with demonstrators planning action during the event.

Protests during a European Union meeting in Gothenburg, Sweden last weekend turned ugly, despite efforts by the center-left Swedish government to hold talks with protesters beforehand.

Some of the same anarchist protest groups involved then are also planning to try disrupt the gathering of the leaders of the world's top eight industrialized nations, headed by the U.S.

With the phenomenon becoming an apparent fixture at important international meetings, Berlusconi has been preoccupied with how to deal with the situation in Genoa, when more than 100,000 demonstrators are expected to converge on the medieval port city on July 20-22.

Holding meetings on the subject with his interior minister, he told reporters: "We must be very careful. We must not let Genoa be Gothenburg."

The security challenge comes in the early days of Berlusconi's tenure, when he has been trying to set out the goals of his new center-right government.

The issue of abortion sits high on its conservative agenda. European affairs minister Rocco Buttiglione has proposed subsidies and family therapy as ways of encouraging women with unplanned pregnancies not to have abortions.

If a woman chooses to keep her baby, she will be given the equivalent of $440 for the year after the child is born. "Many women have abortions because they can't afford a child," Buttiglione said.

The issue has sparked strong reactions, showing abortion remains a sensitive matter in overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Italy. The left-leaning daily La Repubblica said in an editorial that the government made the proposals with an eye fixed on the expectations of the church.

Berlusconi's early days in office have also been dogged by the issue of his extensive media holdings.

As Italy's wealthiest man, he controls 80 percent of Italy's television market.

Berlusconi has promised to address concerns about a conflict of interest between his political role and his huge business empire.

"The situation I find myself in was well known to the 18 million Italians who voted for me," he told parliament, adding: "My history as a communications entrepreneur and my personal conscience permit no one to suspect that my institutional goals would be contrary to common good."

The prime minister is one of the few tycoons who have survived charges of bribery and financial fraud in an anti-corruption drive, which brought down many of Italy's political and business elites in the 1980s and early 1990s.

At least six major court cases are still pending against him.