Former Italian minister wearing T-shirt with prophet cartoon now under investigation

A former right-wing Italian minister who wore a T-shirt with a Prophet Muhammad caricature is being investigated for possible offense to religious beliefs, Italian newspapers said Tuesday. Roberto Calderoli displayed the T-shirt while appearing on the state-run RAI TV. The move was widely blamed for riots outside the Italian consulate in the Libyan coastal city of Benghazi in which 11 people died.

Rome prosecutors have requested to see tapes from the news show in which Calderoli appeared, according to Italian daily Il Messaggero and other reports. If convicted, the ex-minister, who is a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, faces a fine of between 1,000 (US$1,200) and 5,000 (US$6,000), the reports said.

Rome prosecutors were not available for comment. Northern League officials said they had seen the reports, but could not immediately confirm them. Calderoli resigned his post as reforms minister Saturday following a demand by Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who is seeking re-election in April, that he step down immediately.

But the Northern League party has made a point of showing its support, passing a motion Monday in which party leaders expressed their "total solidarity" with the former minister and their "great appreciation" for his work.

However, the party stopped short of quitting Berlusconi's coalition as it had threatened to do, instead setting down a list of demands to be included in the coalition's program in exchange for its loyalty. They include "the defense of Europe 's Christian roots" and stepped up efforts to fight illegal immigration.

The riots Friday in Libya, Italy's former colony, had one of the highest reported death tolls from any of the protests in recent weeks over cartoons of the prophet that were originally published by a Danish newspaper. Such demonstrations have left at least 45 people dead in the Muslim world over the past month, reports the AP.


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