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Italy Separatists Hold Elections

October 27, 1997

ROME (AP) _ Italian officials are dismissing symbolic elections by separatists who want to create an independent nation named Padania in northern Italy.

The Northern League party said more than 5 million people voted in the elections Sunday, but the number was impossible to verify. The group said it had set up 22,000 gazebos as voting booths in the country’s northern regions, including Lombardy, Piedmont and Veneto.

Interior Minister Giorgio Napolitano dismissed the vote, saying it had ``nothing to do with democratic elections.″ Premier Romano Prodi said authorities will be alert to any violations of the constitution.

Since the movement emerged in the early 1990s, the government and well-established political parties have vacillated between demanding a tough crackdown on the League and ignoring it.

Sunday’s event was the latest in a series of provocative gestures promoting the group’s anti-central government agenda, espoused by its leader, Umberto Bossi.

Bossi’s party rails against high taxes and bureaucracy, which supporters say are bleeding the industrial, richer north in favor of the poorer, crime-ridden south.

A year ago, Bossi issued a declaration of independence for Padania, which he envisions as encompassing an affluent region roughly north of Po River and Italy’s business capital, Milan. Padania already has its own flag, newspaper and symbolic government.

The League has won up to 40 percent of the vote in some northern regions in past Italian elections, and garnered 10 percent of the total in the last national vote 17 months ago.

Despite its popularity in the north, polls show that many of the League’s supporters would not want to go as far as splitting off from Italy.

``The institutions of Rome are as though they don’t exist,″ Bossi said Sunday in Varese, where he was casting his ballot. But he forgot his identity card and had to go get it.

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