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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Berlusconi Declares West Superior

ROME -- Breaking ranks with allies reaching out to the Moslem world, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Western civilization is superior to Islam. He also said he hopes the West conquers Islamic civilization.

The conservative billionaire's remarks Wednesday were instantly disavowed by more moderate politicians in Italy, who called them both ill-timed and offensive. The European Union also distanced itself from Berlusconi's remarks.

Speaking after talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der and President Vladimir Putin, Berlusconi told a news conference that "we must be aware of the superiority of our civilization, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and -- in contrast with Islamic countries -- respect for religious and political rights, a system that has as its values understandings of diversity and tolerance."

He also claimed Western civilization is superior because it "has at its core, as its greatest value, freedom, which is not the heritage of Islamic culture."

Berlusconi went on to say that he trusts "the West will continue to conquer peoples, like it conquered communism," even if it means a confrontation with "another civilization, the Islamic one, stuck where it was 1,400 years ago."

His comments came as many other Western leaders were taking pains to avoid antagonizing the Moslem world and forge a worldwide coalition against terrorism.

U.S. President George W. Bush, for example, met Wednesday with American Sikhs and Moslems at the White House and issued yet another appeal for religious tolerance.

The reaction in Italy to Berlusconi's comments was swift and sharp. They were denounced by a number of Italian politicians as irresponsible and inflammatory. The European Union added its voice Thursday.

"I can hardly believe that the Italian prime minister made such statements," said Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, who holds the EU's rotating presidency.

"Such words can be dangerous, because they can instill a feeling of humiliation at a time when we need dialogue and cooperation between the West and the world of Islam," Verhofstadt told reporters Thursday as he left for talks with Bush in Washington.

"We certainly don't share the views expressed yesterday by Mr. Berlusconi," said Jean-Christophe Filori, spokesman for the European Commission, the EU's executive arm. "This message was not born out of tolerance."

The commission's president, Romano Prodi, visited Brussels' largest mosque Thursday to meet Islamic leaders before joining Verhofstadt on his trip to Washington.

"I totally condemn any statement that identifies Islam with the groups responsible for the dreadful terrorist attacks we have recently witnessed," said Prodi, a former Italian prime minister.

"Europe, together with the United States, wants to fight terrorism, not Islam," he added. "We are building a Europe that is humane and open to all traditions and religions."

An outspoken businessman, Berlusconi has only limited foreign policy experience, despite a brief, previous turn as prime minister in 1994.

Italy is home to at least 500,000 Moslems, many of them immigrants from North Africa.