From the Independent’s John Phillips.

Silvio Berlusconi (above), Italy’s Prime Minister, sought to make light of the controversy over Paolo Di Canio’s use of the Fascist salute at a football match on Sunday, saying the Lazio striker was simply an incorrigible exhibitionist.

The footballer flashed a straight-armed, flat-handed Roman salute to the crowd during Lazio’s match against Livorno, earning him a ‚¬10,000 (£6,750) fine and a single-match ban.

Mr Berlusconi leapt to his defence yesterday, saying that Di Canio was “a respectable boy, not a Fascist. He just does it for the fans, not out of malice. He’s a good boy, just a bit of a show-off.”

The right-wing leader denied the 37-year-old’s activities were a sign of residual Fascism.

“Fascism is finished, Communism continues,” he snorted. Mussolini’s era hadn’t been so bad, he added, explaining that Fascist racial laws against Jews were only introduced to help the Axis war effort.

“Fascism in Italy was never a criminal doctrine. There were the racial laws, horrible, but because one wanted to win the war with Hitler,” Mr Berlusconi told foreign journalists.