Berlusconi on Hitler: Italian Prime Minister Accused of Supporting Fascism

Former Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has been accused of supporting fascism. Demands for his prosecution erupted Sunday, following his praise of Benito Mussolini.

One of Italy's longest serving prime ministers was accused of supporting fascism on Sunday, while speaking to reporters who were in attendance for a Holocaust remembrance event in Milan. Berlusconi defended Mussolini's support for Adolf Hitler, stating that he was likely influenced by a desire to be on the "winning side."

"It is difficult now to put oneself in the shoes of who was making decisions back then," Berlusconi told the AP Sunday. "Certainly the (Italian) government then, fearing that German power would turn into a general victory, preferred to be allied with Hitler's Germany rather than oppose it."

Mussolini created public works programs and increased job opportunities during his reign, but was also responsible for the deportation of over 7,000 Jews of which at least 6,000 were killed.

Berlusconi said, "Within this alliance came the imposition of the fight against, and extermination of, the Jews.Thus, the racial laws are the worst fault of Mussolini, who, in so many other aspects, did good."

A number of other political figures responded to Berlusconi's comments in outrage, including some figures from abroad.

Berlusconi's praise of Mussolini constitutes "an insult to the democratic conscience of Italy," Rosy Bindi, a center-left leader, told AP. "Only Berlusconi's political cynicism, combined with the worst historic revisionism, could separate the shame of the racist laws from the Fascist dictatorship."

Berlusconi issued a later statement to LaPresse, an Italian News agency, saying he "regretted" that he had failed to clarify his comment, adding that his opinions "are always based on condemnation of dictatorships."