Military in the city - Milan

Military in the city - Milan

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government, elected last year on a promise to crack down on crime and curb illegal immigration, has agreed with its Northern League allies a plan for patrols to help police and soldiers on the streets.

The proposal, which still needs parliamentary approval, is opposed by Italy's left-wing opposition and by civil rights groups, who fear it could lead to racial discrimination and violence.

Some critics have compared the plan to the paramilitary volunteer groups, known as the Blackshirts, used by Fascist leader Benito Mussolini as the muscle behind his inter-war government.

"They call them patrols. Well yes, we want the patrols," Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told a Northern League rally. "They have accused us of wanting to bring back the Blackshirts, but we want to allow citizens to participate."

One volunteer group, the Italian National Guard, unveiled its proposal to participate in the patrols in Milan on Saturday, sporting beige uniforms and black military-style hats.

Judicial sources said that a prosecutor had opened an investigation into the group, which has links to the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) formed by former Mussolini supporters.

The sources said the prosecutor could present charges in the coming days of attempting to resurrect the fascist party.

(Reporting by Antonella Cinelli and Roberto Bonzio)