The Italian opposition leader Romano Prodi says concerns over impartiality have forced him to refuse to take part in a live television debate with his main rival, Silvio Berlusconi. Prime Minister Berlusconi’s centre-right allies have reacted by accusing Prodi of running scared ahead of the country’s General Election in April. But a spokesman for the centre-left Prodi camp said no guarantees were given that the rules of fair play would be followed.
“If he passes up the right to his press conference, then I will move heaven and earth to be at the debate,” Prodi said. “It’s no problem, there have already been two and Berlusconi himself refused to take part in one last time round in 2001. It’s not the end of the world if one of us refuses.”
In reply, the Prime Minister claimed state broadcaster RAI had agreed to follow the legally agreed format. “I expect RAI to give me the opportunity to publicise my policies and talk through what we’ve achieved over the last five years”, he said.
Strict broadcasting laws govern the amount of time Italy’s political parties are given before an election. Two debates had been scheduled along with a final press conference featuring Berlusconi alone. He claims opponents are tactically refusing to appear with him, while radio and television stations are reluctant to allow him to appear unchallenged.