Bomb Blasts Add to Italy's Woes

THE three bombs that exploded in Italy this week will not succeed in intimidating the forces for change, President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro told the nation yesterday.

The attacks occurred late Tuesday evening in Milan, the center of sweeping judicial corruption probes, and early Wednesday morning in Rome, the heart of the country's political power.

The blasts follow last week's suicides of two leading Italian businessmen - Gabriele Cagliari, chief of the giant government energy firm, Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi, and Raul Gardini, head of the Ferruzzi-Montedison conglomerate, Italy's second largest private company - who were involved in a joint venture, Enimont, caught up in Milan kickback investigations. And they come as pressure is increasing on Parliament in Rome to adopt a new electoral law as a prelude to early elections.

"We do not know who the men are who planted the bombs," says Rocco Buttiglione, a leading member of the Italian Popular Party, the former Christian Democratic Party. "Italy's changing a lot now, and those who put those bombs are willing to scare Italians so that they'll give up the effort to change the country."

Five people died and 10 were injured in Milan, where a car bomb exploded shortly after 11 p.m. Tuesday on Via Palestro near the Villa Reale, a modern art museum. The attack follows the May 27 blast outside the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, in which five people also died.

Then moments after midnight, two bombs exploded in Rome's city center. One car bomb went off at the basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano, the church of the bishop of Rome, Pope John Paul II. The bomb caused serious damage to the walls, doors, and floors of the church, a church official said. The other exploded at Via del Velabro, a small side street in one of Rome's oldest sections, adjacent to the Bocca della Veritia (the "mouth of truth"). Twenty-two were wounded in the two Rome attacks. On May 14, a c ar bomb exploded in Rome's Parioli district, moments after a popular talk show host passed by in his car.

President Scalfaro called a morning meeting with Prime Minister Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, interior and defense ministers, and law-enforcement heads.

One likely suspect is the Mafia, Mr. Buttiglione says: A bomb in Milan would distract the police from Sicily, the Mafia's stronghold. The reputed top two Mafia leaders, Salvatore Riina and Nitto Santapaola, were arrested earlier this year on the island. Former seven-time Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti is awaiting trial on charges that he met with top Mafia leaders, including Mr. Riina.

Another possibility, he says, is corrupt elements of the Freemasons - allied with the Mafia and wielding substantial power in Italy. The Masons are a quasi-religious fraternal society dating back to the 1700s, but the Italian movement has taken on a political nature.

Judicial investigations of the Masons, the Mafia, and the ties between politicians and businessmen have been shaking the country for the past two years. Largely as a result of magistrates' accusations and revelations, many formerly powerful political leaders and parties have been discredited.

"We already have `the government of the judges', and the balance of power has been broken in favor of the judges. And the responsibility is not so much with the judges as with the politicians, who are not able to purify themselves," says Buttiglione. "Perhaps it's not just an accident that these bombs exploded just one day after the great assembly of the party succeeding the Christian Democratic Party."

The party ended its constituent assembly Monday, in which it decided upon its new name and developed a centrist political policy. Many noted party politicians, accused of corruption and ties with organized crime, were not invited to the meeting.

Still, resistance to reform remains strong and not just among those who plant bombs. The nub of the problem is that while the old Italian system of patronage and all-powerful political parties is increasingly being undermined, politicians are doing little to fill the void.

Three and a half months after Italians voted in a national referendum in favor of streamlining their 12 national parties into two or three major political groupings by establishing a British-style electoral system, parliamentarians still have not converted the popular will into law.

As a result of this delay, reformers are ruminating over a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Is it better to press the Old Guard in Parliament (many of whom are under investigation in various scandals) to pass reforms now and then go to early elections or to go to early elections first and then proceed with reform?

President Scalfaro and referendum champion Mario Segni favor the former course of action, saying reform is what the Italian people voted for overwhelmingly in the April referendum.

The Democratic Party of the Left and the Northern League, the two parties which emerged triumphant from June's mayoral elections, are pressing for early elections first, sometime this autumn. They argue that the current Parliament's members are too corrupt to reform anything, and that their paramount desire is to cling to power for as long as possible.

"Nothing's going to change," despairs one young Roman, speaking of her country's politicians. "They're only going to become more crafty."

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