COMO, Italy (AP) — Italy's governing Democrats led a rally Saturday to warn about fascism making a comeback in the nation that once suffered under fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and which is now seeing a rash of right-wing protests against migrants.
Several thousand people turned out in Como, a lakeside town in northern Italy where right-wing extremists calling themselves the Veneto Skinhead Front recently barged into a meeting about migrant housing and railed about the "invasion" of foreigners.
Veneto, a region in northeast Italy, is a stronghold of the anti-migrant Northern League Party, which hopes to take power in Italy via an electoral alliance with former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservatives after the 2018 election.
On Friday night, two brothers burst into a Veneto residence housing Nigerian asylum-seekers, one of them claiming to be a policeman, the Italian news agency ANSA reported, citing Italy's Carabinieri police.
Earlier this week, masked supporters of the neo-fascist Forza Nuova party also attacked the Rome headquarters of the liberal paper La Repubblica and the newsweekly L'Espresso.
Fearing clashes on Saturday, authorities in Como refused to allow a Forza Nuova counter-rally.
Instead, Forza Nuova proponents gathered at a Como hotel, where leader Roberto Fiore contended that the Democrats, La Repubblica and L'Espresso were fostering a "climate of hate" against his party. Fiore defended the Veneto Skinhead Front's action as "a peaceful act, a demonstration against the business of immigration."
The post-war Italian Constitution, adopted a few years after the demise of Mussolini's regime, outlaws the return of fascist organizations.
Chamber of Deputies President Laura Boldrini said it was the "duty of all democratic forces, of civil society, of citizens" to oppose fascism.
"We're not dealing with pranks, but faced with organized groups who want to threaten the order and values of our democracy (and) we must seriously" deal with the situation, Boldrini told reporters in Como.
A Democratic party leader and government minister, Maurizio Martina, warned at the Como rally that there was a "danger of underestimating" the extreme-right violence.
"There are people who don't want to look the other way in front of xenophobia and racism," he declared.
Two political parties shunned the Como rally — the populist opposition 5-Star Movement, which recent opinion polls peg as Italy's No. 1 party before the 2018 election, and Berlusconi's Forza Italia party.
Under former Premier Matteo Renzi's leadership, the Democratic Party has splintered into factions and tiny new parties, weakening his prospects in a national election to be held in early 2018.
Opposition leaders accuse the Democrat-led government of being too accommodating toward migrants, who have arrived by the hundreds of thousands in the last few years after being rescued at sea from smugglers' boats that left the lawless shores of Libya.
D'Emilio reported from Rome.
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