An Italian politician faithful to former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has lashed out against world-renowned Oscar-winning actor and director Robert Benigni.
Benigni - who had a huge success touring Italy with his 90-minute TuttoDante show, in which he recites Dante (the celebrated Middle Ages poet who imagined afterlife in the Divina Commedia) has always been a sympathiser of Italy's left.
In his latest remarks, the comedian joked about Sunday's demonstration by followers of Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PDL) in support of their leader, whose four-year prison sentence on tax-fraud charges has been upheld by Italy's Supreme Court.
Benigni said that the party's leaders "paid people to join the demonstration otherwise no-one would have gone" to Rome.
Originally the rally was to have been held in a Rome square followed by a march to the president's palace to put pressure on President Giorgio Napolitano to grant a pardon to the 76-year-old media magnate. However, the procession was cancelled and only around 2,000 people demonstrated outside Berlusconi's residence in the capital. "I am alive. I am not giving up," an emotional Berlusconi, dressed in black, said fighting back tears.
But Renato Brunetta, PDL's leader in the lower chamber, did not like the irony from the director of award-winning Life is Beautiful. "A good reason not to go to hell is the idea of finding there Benigni who repeats the same refrain killing Dante also there," he said.
"As long as Benigni pathetically reiterates pranks on me and other colleagues [...] it is not funny but it is OK. Conversely, if he maintains that we paid people to join Sunday's demonstration, it is a lie and it's an infamy that hit not only the organisers but also common people that love Berlusconi and are angered by injustice. "
Italy's coalition government has been rocked by the Supreme Court's sentence on Berlusconi. A senior official triggered a backlash over the weekend by warning of "a new form of civil war" if Berlusconi was banned from politics.
The Court has ordered a review into his five-year ban from public office following his fraud conviction last October.
However, three years of his four-year prison sentence will be discounted due to a 2006 amnesty. The remaining one year is likely to be served under house arrest or community service.