Italy's former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has praised fascist leader Benito Mussolini's leadership skills at a Holocaust memorial event, but said he was wrong to pass anti-Jewish laws.
In widely criticised comments at the event in Milan, the former Prime Minister said: "It's difficult now to put yourself in the shoes of people who were making decisions at that time.
"Obviously the government of that time, out of fear that German power might lead to complete victory, preferred to ally itself with Hitler's Germany rather than opposing it.
"As part of this alliance, there were impositions, including combating and exterminating Jews. The racial laws were the worst fault of Mussolini as a leader, who in so many other ways did well.
The centre-left Democratic Party, the movement expected to beat Berlusconi's party in the February elections, condemned his comments. A spokesman told Reuters: "Our republic is based on the struggle against Nazi fascism and these are intolerable remarks which are incompatible with leadership of democratic political forces.
Around 10,000 Jews are estimated to have been deported from Italy between September 1943 and March 1945, and most died in Auschwitz concentration camp.