Italian premier receives "freedom award"

Capping a two-day visit to the United States, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi received an award for "defending the values of freedom" through his staunch support of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Upon accepting the Intrepid Freedom award Wednesday night at a gala dinner aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid, a World War II aircraft carrier anchored in New York, Berlusconi called on all democratic nations to meet their "duty to stay with America to advance this war for our freedom, for the freedom of everybody."

Berlusconi received a warm welcome from the estimated 1,000 guests who attended the $1,000 ( Ђ 836)-per-person fundraiser for the Intrepid Foundation, which administers the historic warship that serves as a museum and memorial to the U.S. Armed Forces.

Past recipients of the award, presented by the foundation to a "leader who has distinguished himself in promoting and defending the values of freedom and democracy," include former U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, British premier Margaret Thatcher, and the late Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin.

"We have an Italian leader who has never brought us such closeness to the Italian government," said Intrepid Foundation Vice Chairman Michael Stern, who presented Berlusconi the award.

In a room draped with U.S. and Italian flags, the award ceremony featured U.S. Army guards presenting the flags of both nations and singers performing the Italian and American national anthems, as speaker after speaker affirmed the alliance between the two nations.

"We are all Italians this evening," said Bill White, President of the Intrepid Foundation, reports the AP.


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