An ironic joke by Mr Berlusconi

2003 July 4

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has demanded a public apology from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi over remarks comparing a German politician to a Nazi guard.

To applause from the German parliament in Berlin, Mr Schroeder said he expected Mr Berlusconi to «apologise fully for this unacceptable comparison». «This comparison, this remark, is a mistake in form and content and totally unacceptable», he declared.

The Italian leader triggered uproar in the European Parliament when he suggested that Martin Schulz, a heckling German MEP who had criticised him, would be perfectly cast as a Nazi concentration camp guard in a forthcoming film.

The incident has prompted an extraordinary diplomatic row between two of the European Union's biggest countries. European Parliament president Pat Cox has said he will approach the Italian EU presidency to try to bring the row to an end. Mr Cox was speaking after faction leaders failed to agree to seek a formal apology from Mr Berlusconi.

So far, the Italian leader has refused to retract his remarks, describing them as an ironic joke which the translators had failed to convey. Mr Berlusconi blamed Italy's left-wing opposition for deliberately trying to wreck his appearance in the European Parliament -but did not say how.