Berlusconi comments on WW2 death camps spark German anger

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image captionBerlusconi made the latest comments at a rally for his Forza Italia party ahead of the European elections

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has sparked outrage by saying "for the Germans, concentration camps never existed".

He was referring to a previous gaffe in which he told a German MEP that he could play a Nazi concentration camp guard in a film.

His latest comments were at a rally in Milan ahead of the European elections.

German Families Minister Manuela Schwesig said Berlusconi's "attacks" against Germans were "unspeakable".

Berlusconi was referring to a 2003 incident involving MEP Martin Schulz, who is now president of the European parliament.

He had said to Mr Schulz: "I know that in Italy there is a man producing a film on Nazi concentration camps - I shall put you forward for the role of Kapo [guard] - you would be perfect."

The president of Mr Schulz's Socialists and Democrats (S&D) bloc, Hannes Swoboda, called Berlusconi's latest comments "sickening".

Numerous trials

This is the latest in a long line of Berlusconi comments to have sparked criticism.

Berlusconi is one of Italy's richest men and served as prime minister for nine months from May 1994 and then again for two terms from 2001 to 2006 and from 2008 to 2011.

He faced frequent allegations of conflicts of interest but it was Italy's debt crisis that forced his resignation in 2011.

He is embroiled in several legal cases and in 2012 was convicted of tax fraud, leading to his expulsion from the Italian Senate. His sentence for that conviction was to carry out community service in an old people's home.

Berlusconi maintains he is the target of a vendetta by left-wing judges and once described himself as "without doubt the person who's been the most persecuted in the entire history of the world and the history of man".

He retains a considerable following on the right of Italian politics and is still leader of Forza Italia, the main conservative opposition bloc.

However, in March Italy's highest court upheld a two-year ban on him holding public office.

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