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Clinton arrives in Rome for D-Day tour

ROME, June 2 -- President Clinton arrived in Italy Thursday for a weeklong European tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of D-Day and deliver a message that the ties that bound the Allies during World War II are equally strong today.

Clinton was accompanied by his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Mrs. Clinton's mother, Dorothy Rodham. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and top White House advisers joined the Clintons for the tour, which was expected blend memories of past victories with high-level discussions about future trouble spots.

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The 47-year-old president was born two years after the invasion -- the first U.S. president born after World War II -- but his father, William Blythe 3rd, served in the Italian campaign.

Budget Secretary Leon Panetta, fluent in Italian -- the language of his heritage -- was to be pressed into service to help the president hit the right tone in delivering an address Thursday afternoon to Romans at Capitoline Hill. Panetta also is to serve as Clinton's translator while in Italy.

After a few hours of sleep and perhaps a morning jog, Clinton planned to pay a courtesy call on Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro.

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Afterward, he is scheduled to travel to the Vatican for an audience with Pope John Paul II, who was released from the hospital several days ago after suffering a broken hip.

A senior administration official rejected a report that the pope was less than enthusiastic about the visit from Clinton, whose strong pro- choice stance clashes with the Roman Catholic Church's opposition to abortion.

The official stressed the positive, saying there would be four main issues discussed during the meeting: U.S. appreciation for the Vatican's establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel, the continuing strife in Bosnia-Herzegovina; global humanitarian issues including tribal violence and mass killings in Rwanda; and concerns about a possible famine in the Horn of Africa.

Also on the agenda is discussion about religious freedom in Vietnam, the official said, and an international population conference set for September in Cairo.

The official admitted there were major disagreements between the Clinton administration and the Vatican on issues to be covered at the population conference, such as family planning and contraception. But he added, 'Abortion is a fact of life around the world, and it is not safe.'

After a tour of the restored masterpieces of Michelangelo gracing the Sistine Chapel, Clinton is scheduled to meet for the first time with newly elected Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose right-wing coalition of the Freedom Alliance won a landslide victory in election in March after just three months campaigning.

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The Clinton visit comes at a critical time for Berlusconi, has been dogged by international charges that some of his Cabinet ministers are fascists.

Three of the five far-right National Alliance ministers in his coalition are from the Italian Social Movement, created from the ashes of the Fascisti of wartime dictator Benito Mussolini, a key ally to Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War II.

The appointments have been slammed by the left-wing European leaders including French President Francois Mitterand. And Berlusconi has been at pains to quell European fears of a return to a dictatorship in Italy, promoting the nation in news reports as a 'new Italy' and a nation with strong democratic credentials.

On Friday, Clinton is scheduled to make to visit the first in a series of beaches on the Allied invasion route that eventually turned the tide of World War II in Europe, leading to the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Clinton is to tour Nettuno and Anzio beaches, where a memorial ceremony is planned in honor of the 7,862 U.S. soldiers who died in combat during fighting that raked Italy from Sicily to Rome in 1943 and 1944.

The address is to be delivered at the foot of the 'Brothers in Arms' sculpture by Paul Manship of New York, which depicts a U.S. soldier and sailor, side by side with arms on each other's shoulders.

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The president's arrival at Ciampino military and civilian airport in Rome was low key, but he was welcomed with a red carpet on the tarmac while an honor guard stood at attention.

He and his wife were to stay at the Villa Taverna, the U.S. Embassy in Rome, until they depart for Great Britain on Saturday morning.

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