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Silvio Berlusconi defends Mussolini for backing Hitler

ROME — Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi praised Benito Mussolini for ‘‘having done good’’ despite the Fascist dictator’s anti-Jewish laws, immediately sparking expressions of outrage as Europe on Sunday held Holocaust remembrances.

Berlusconi also defended Mussolini for allying himself with Hitler, saying he probably reasoned that it would be better to be on the winning side.

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The media mogul, whose conservative forces are polling second in voter surveys ahead of next month’s election, spoke to reporters on the sidelines of a ceremony in Milan to commemorate the Holocaust.

Holocaust survivors, politicians, religious leaders, and others marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day. A memorial service was held at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the death camp where Hitler’s Germany killed at least 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, in southern Poland. In Warsaw, prayers were said at a monument to the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. At the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI said humanity must always be on guard against murderous racism.

In 1938, before the outbreak of World War II, Mussolini’s regime passed the so-called racial laws barring Jews from Italy’s universities and many professions, among other bans. More than 7,000 Jews were deported under the regime, and nearly 6,000 of them were killed.

Berlusconi said that ‘‘the racial laws are the worst fault of Mussolini, who, in so many other aspects, did good.’’

He later issued a statement saying he regretted that he didn’t make clear that his historical analyses ‘‘are always based on condemnation of dictatorships,’’ the Italian news agency LaPresse reported.

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