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Exam feels the force of Berlusconi

ITALY

A clumsy attempt to flatter Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has brought the country's school-leaving exams into disrepute.

Students taking the exam in June were given a choice of four essay titles.

One option quoted Mr Berlusconi directly. Beneath the title "Water: the source of life" candidates read: "To provide food we need water. We have to invest to guarantee the availability of water."

It turned out that the citation was from Silvio Berlusconi, addressing the 2002 World Food Day conference in Rome.

Another title, on political repression in the 20th century, referred to French writer Stephane Courtois's The Black Book of Communism, a work frequently cited by the prime minister.

"When are we going to see free copies of the collected works of Silvio Berlusconi distributed in every school?" asked opposition leader Piero Fassino. Another commentator said Mr Berlusconi was suffering from an excessive personality cult reminiscent of the deposed Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceauscescu.

The outspoken Mr Berlusconi owns three major television channels, a national daily newspaper, a publishing house and a weekly news magazine - as well as European football champions AC Milan. He is currently in trouble with the European Union for accusing a German MEP of behaving like a Nazi camp guard.

Nobody can remember a previous instance of a quotation by a serving prime minister being used as an essay title. The school-leaving exam always begins with an essay on a general topic. The titles are chosen by a group of school inspectors. According to the Milan newspaper, Corriere della Sera, the titles were proposed by an over-zealous inspector who is likely to be removed from next year's think-tank.

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