Italian terrorist suspect Toni Negri took his seat in Italy's newly convened parliament this week amid a growing political and legal storm over his recent election and subsequent release from prison.
The start of the inaugural session of the 630-member Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday was delayed for about 10 minutes while representatives of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement banged on their table tops shouting, "Out, out, assassin, assassin," in the direction of the 50-year-old Padua political science professor who was jailed in April 1979 on charges of subversion, armed insurrection, murder, kidnaping and theft.
Several neo-fascist deputies tried to assault Negri but were restrained by chamber officials and other deputies.
Earlier in the day the dominant Christian Democrats had sought unsuccessfully to block Negri's entry to parliament by asking the chamber's president, Nilde Jotti, a Communist, to ask him to stay out and abstain from legislative activity on grounds that he was "one of the principal inspirers of the most serious episodes in the period in which former prime minister Aldo Moro and his police escort were assassinated."
At the same time it became known that Rome Attorney General Franz Sesti had sent a request to parliament that it suspend Negri's recently acquired parliamentary immunity so that his trial, suspended following his election on the Radical Party ticket two weeks ago, could resume.
Negri has always said he opposes parliamentary immunity and would ask that authorization to proceed with his trial be granted. But tensions have mounted here since it became known last week that the attorney general's office was also planning to ask parliament for permission to issue a new arrest warrant for Negri. This week's request was for both the arrest of Negri and the authorization to continue court proceedings, suspended until Sept. 26.
No immediate developments are expected; it could be several weeks before a parliamentary commission that must prepare an opinion on the question is sworn into office. But if the arrest warrant is granted, Negri, who has propounded theories of violence against the state, could be sent back to prison.
At a press conference at Radical Party headquarters Saturday, the day after he was released from prison, Negri said, "I just don't believe they will have the effrontery to issue another warrant."
The neo-fascist parliamentary leader, Alfredo Pazzagli, said Wednesday that Negri was "the moral head of terrorism in Italy" and that his party would ask that the new legislature's first act would be to have him rearrested immediately.
Former prime minister Giovanni Spadolini, the leader of the Republican Party, hinted that his party was likely to take a hard-line position. Spadolini said parliamentary immunity was designed above all to protect parliamentarians in office from political harassment and could not be used to turn the parliament into a "place of sanctuary" for those already jailed, particularly on criminal charges.
The so-called "April 7 Case," named after the day on which Negri and 30 other Padua intellectuals of the left-wing autonomy movement were arrested, has become a cause for many Italians who saw the four years of imprisonment that preceded this spring's trial opening as a serious civil rights infringement.
The Radicals said this is why they gave Negri top spots on their election slates in Milan, Rome and Naples.
More than 50,000 Italians voted for Negri, many saying it was not because they believe him innocent but because they were outraged at the long period of detention while the state prepared its case.
Others who refused to vote for Negri said that since the trial had started, electing him will only delay the course of justice.
Italian police and judicial authorities have seen themselves as able to deter terrorism significantly without sacrificing the country's democratic institutions.
But last week Amnesty International criticized what it termed the "excessive" length of pretrial detention in Italy for terrorist crimes.
Negri, the author of several books on political theory, was a leader in the northern Italian autonomy movement in the 1970s and a well-known professor at Padua University, where he frequently lectured on topics like the destruction of the state.
According to investigations in Padua under Magistrate Pietro Calogero, Negri used the autonomy movement and before it a group called Workers' Power to provide political strategy and leadership for the Red Brigades terrorist group.
Negri is also charged with robbery, murder of a policeman and involvement in the kidnaping and accidental death of Milanese heir Carlo Saronio.
In testimony at his trial, which now involves 72 defendants, Negri has maintained that he is innocent of all the charges and that the autonomy group was an amorphous movement rather than a genuine political organization.