Rome: Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi`s close political ally, Umberto Bossi, has apologised for infuriating residents of this capital city by calling Romans "pigs".
During a beauty pageant earlier this week, Bossi, the gruff founder of the Northern League party, referred to the ancient SPQR motto and said it stood for "Sono Porci Questi Romani" ("These Romans Are Pigs") and not for Senatus Populus Que Romanus (The Senate and Roman People).
"I apologise to Roman residents if they were offended," he said. "But it was only a joke."
The remark sparked outrage in the city. Francesco Totti, who is the captain of football team AS Roma and perhaps the city`s most famous resident, challenged Bossi to repeat his remark at a home game, hinting that the notoriously rambunctious Roma fans may cause the politician bodily harm.
Bossi founded the Northern League as a break-away movement for much of Italy`s wealthy north. Much of his rhetoric during stump speeches focused on attacking Rome -- the seat of Italian government -- for its wasteful ways.
Northern League politicians have toned down calls to separate from Italy, aiming instead for fiscal federalism.
The party is a coalition partner in Berlusconi`s conservative government.