Italians celebrated Liberation Day on Monday, marking the 60th anniversary of a partisan uprising that helped usher in the end of World War II, but conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi's decision to skip a traditional march in Milan sparked outrage.
In one of the day's first ceremonies, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi was leading a tribute in central Rome at the towering white stone memorial for Italy's war dead.
Other commemorations of those who fought and died against Nazi and Fascist forces were scheduled across Italy, but the absence of some members of the governing center-right coalition from celebrations angered the center-left opposition.
Opposition leader Romano Prodi has criticized Berlusconi's decision not to take part in what is traditionally the day's main event, a march through the streets of Milan usually attended by thousands, including aging former partisans and politicians.
"It's a pity and a reason for sincere worry that relevant forces within the majority that has governed Italy in this legislature do not recognize themselves in this celebration of freedom and democracy," Prodi was quoted as saying by the Apcom news agency Sunday.
Representatives of the right-wing National Alliance and Northern League parties, Berlusconi's key allies, will also be absent from the Milan event, Apcom reported.
Reforms Minister Roberto Calderoli, a member of the Northern League, told Milan-based Corriere della Sera daily that in previous years center-right politicians taking part in the march have been subjected to physical and verbal abuse by leftist militants.
The march in the streets of the northern city commemorates an uprising in Milan that began on April 25, 1945, and soon spread to the whole of German-occupied northern Italy.
Within days, Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who headed a Nazi puppet state, was captured, shot and hung by his feet in a Milan square.
In the following days, before Allied forces took control, partisans summarily executed thousands of Fascist officials and suspected collaborators.
Ideological divisions stemming from Mussolini's 20-year Fascist rule remain to this day, dividing Italians on the left and the right, and the April 25 anniversary often provokes political spats.
Mussolini's politician granddaughter, Alessandra Mussolini, said she decided to spend the three-day holiday weekend at a Red Sea resort to avoid controversy.
"It's not by chance that I'm here, in Egypt," Corriere della Sera quoted her as saying in an interview published Monday. "I want to be as far away as possible from the April 25th of hatreds and rancor," said Mussolini, who leads a tiny party that broke away from Berlusconi's main right-wing party, National Alliance. "History's one thing. Politics are another."
Among the commemorative events were ceremonies on key battlefields of the Italian campaign, including the beaches of Anzio and Nettuno.
ARIEL DAVID, Associated Press Writer
On the photo: the partisans marching on the streets of Milan, April 25 1945