Italian PM sent threatening letter with bullet

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ROME, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has been sent a threatening letter with a bullet inside and a demand that he resign, his spokesman said today.

The letter was sent to the centre-left premier care of the opposition newspaper Il Giornale, which is owned by the brother of conservative former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The prime minister's spokesman, Silvio Sircana, played down the seriousness of the incident, saying Prodi ''often receives threats''.

''We choose not to dramatise incidents -- which are serious and worrying nonetheless -- to avoid debate, manipulation, or, worse still, uncontrollable copy-cat cases,'' Sircana said.

But he gave Il Giornale a dressing-down for only mentioning the threat to Prodi at the end of a report on similar threats sent to two magistrates probing politicians' business links.

The media says Prodi himself is being investigated in one of these cases, but there has been no official confirmation and the prime minister has denied any irregular business activity.

Sircana said in a statement that the letter was signed by an unknown group called ''the Social Justice Committee'' and read: ''Prodi must resign or there will be no further warnings.'' ''Does Il Giornale think that a partly live bullet, with such accompanying phrases, is a non-story while at the same time it gives pages of coverage to other bullets?'' asked Sircana.

A bullet in an envelope is a common way to threaten public figures in Italy, with politicians and Roman Catholic churchmen among the recent recipients.

Prodi is no stranger to such threats. In his former job as European Commission president he received a letter bomb at his home, others were planted outside, and another with a suspicious white powder. Prodi was not hurt in any of these incidents.

REUTERS SKB KN1859

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