Italian princes return after half a century of exile


The male heirs to Italy's throne returned home yesterday for a lightning visit, ending more than half a century of exile imposed on the family as punishment for collaborating with fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Prince Vittorio Emanuele, 65, and his thirty-year-old son Prince Emanuele Filiberto arrived at a Rome airport yesterday morning and went straight to the Vatican for a private meeting with Pope John Paul II.

"This audience is very important for us, it's almost a page of history," Prince Vittorio Emanuele, the son of Italy's last king, told the Pope.

The Savoys were due to fly back later in the day to Switzerland, where they have lived for much of their exile, before returning to Italy on a permanent basis in 2003.

The Italian parliament voted earlier this year to allow the princes return to their ancestral homeland, overturning a ban imposed on them after Italians voted in a 1946 referendum to abolish the monarchy and create a republic.

However, their return has been delayed by more than a month due to a back injury sustained by Prince Vittorio Emanuele in a car rally accident in Egypt.

The prince, accompanied by his wife Marina Doria, last saw Italy when he was nine years old. His son has never visited the country.

The family fled Rome in 1943 following the fall of Mussolini.

Ostracised by Italian politicians for so long, Prince Vittorio Emanuele made clear the first place he wanted to visit on his return was the Vatican.

Facing pressure from the European Court of Human Rights, Italy's parliament voted in July to rewrite the constitution to allow the male heirs return home as ordinary citizens. Their exile officially came to an end in November.

Both Prince Vittorio Emanuele and his son have pledged their allegiance to the republic and say they have no plans to recreate the monarchy, unless the Italian people desire it. That seems unlikely given the damage to the family's reputation during the fascist rule.

King Victor Emanuel III signed Mussolini's race laws that led to the murder of thousands of Italian Jews in Nazi death camps, then fled Rome to escape the German occupation.- (Reuters)