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Italy Press, Citizens Call U.S. 'Arrogant'

October 19, 1985|DON A. SCHANCHE | Times Staff Writer

ROME — As Italian President Francesco Cossiga began political consultations Friday to form a new governing coalition, many Italian citizens and the Italian press blamed "arrogant" American tactics in the Achille Lauro affair for the collapse of the government of Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi.

One editorial writer compared President Reagan to Adolf Hitler, another said the United States treated Italy like a banana republic and several newspapers called American actions during the crisis "arrogant" and "incomprehensible."

Craxi, now acting as a caretaker prime minister until a new government is organized, may have to cancel a trip to the United States next week because of his own uncertain status. He had been scheduled to travel to New York to address the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday and attend a meeting of heads of seven industrialized nations called by President Reagan in advance of the U.S.-Soviet summit next month in Geneva.

Trip May Be Canceled

The Italian news agency ANSA reported that it was likely that his trip would be canceled, but an aide to Craxi said he might still attend both the U.N. and Reagan meetings if he is asked to organize a new government.

Political observers predicted that Cossiga would name a new prime minister-designate by Monday.

Meanwhile, it was reported here that the Achille Lauro hijackers ordered two of the ship's crew members, under threat of death, to throw the body of the wheelchair-bound American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, 69, into the sea after he was killed by gunshots to the head and chest.

A Portuguese waiter said he and the ship's hairdresser "picked up the old American by the armpits and turned him around," according to the respected Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera. The hijackers held an automatic rifle to his back, the waiter said.

"He was all covered with blood, so much that we couldn't figure out where he was hit," said the waiter, Joaquin Pineiro da Silva, 27. "We picked him up. He was already almost cold. . . . We threw the body overboard and I tried not to look. I heard it fall into the water. I wish I could cry, but I can't."

Da Silva, with hairdresser Ferruccio Alberti, was quoted as saying the incident occurred between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Oct. 8, the second day of the hijacking, as the ship was off the Syrian coast near Tartus. When they were brought to Klinghoffer's body, "he was flat on his face, with the wheelchair turned over. There was blood all around."

An autopsy of Klinghoffer's body, made here Thursday, indicated that he died of two bullet wounds in the head and the chest before he was cast overboard. No bullets were recovered. Italian judicial sources said the body would be flown to the United States today.

Although the political situation in Italy remained uncertain following the resignation of the Craxi government Thursday, there was widespread agreement in the nation's press that the United States had applied unacceptable pressure in its attempts to seize the hijackers from Italian custody and return them to the United States.

Focus on Phone Call

The independent liberal Rome daily La Repubblica focused on Reagan's midnight call to Craxi on Oct. 10, informing the prime minister that an EgyptAir plane carrying the four Palestinian hijackers of the Achille Lauro and two Palestine Liberation Organization officials had been intercepted by U.S. warplanes and would be landing at a joint U.S.-Italian base in Sicily.

"The midnight phone call reminds one of another alliance, between Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany--the midnight calls when Hitler informed Mussolini of his accomplishments, the attack on Poland or Russia."

The moderate and strongly pro-American Rome newspaper Il Messaggero blamed the trouble on Italy's refusal "to act like a banana republic" when it rejected Washington's demand to turn over the hijackers and PLO official Abul Abbas to the United States. The Reagan Administration has identified Abbas as the mastermind of the operation that led to the Achille Lauro hijacking.

Il Giorno, the government-owned newspaper in Milan, said continued Italian allegiance to U.S. policies in the Middle East could "turn the Mediterranean into an immense Vietnam, and Italy into a South Vietnam."

The 26-month-old Craxi government, one of the most stable in postwar Italian history, fell Thursday after an internal dispute with Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini and the Republican Party, who had been partners in the five-party ruling coalition. Craxi blamed the coalition's problems on poorly handled U.S. actions in the aftermath of the hijacking affair.

Among other complaints, Craxi said the U.S. military's anti-terrorist Delta Force conducted an armed standoff against Italian troops when the Egyptian plane was forced down at Sigonella base in Sicily. A senior aide of the prime minister said Friday that the confrontation was much more serious than Craxi described.

He said the two sides came close to using their weapons, and it became "so tense that the Italian commander called for reinforcements." Craxi had complained that the Delta Force was under White House orders to seize the hijackers and the PLO officials and return them to the United States.

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