ROME (AP) — Italian leaders on Thursday marked Liberation Day, which celebrates the end of the country's Fascist dictatorship during World War II, with appeals against glorifying dictator Benito Mussolini.
The celebrations come a day after a group of hardcore fans of the Lazio soccer club performed fascist salutes and hung a banner that read "Honor to Benito Mussolini" before a match in Milan. The banner was hung near Piazzale Loreto, the Milan square where Mussolini's body was hung upside down along with that his mistress and other fascists after they were executed in 1945.
Tens of thousands of people joined marches in Rome and Milan commemorating Italy's liberation from fascism 74 years ago.
President Sergio Mattarella visited the memorial to the Unknown Soldier in Rome after making an appeal against re-writing history. He then headed to Vittorio Veneto in northern Italy, an area where Italian partisans fought Nazi-Fascist troops during the war. He hailed Italy's return to "freedom and democracy after 20 years of dictatorship, deprivation of fundamental freedoms, oppression and persecution."
"History teaches that when people barter their freedom in exchange for promises of order and protection, events always take a tragic and destructive turn," Mattarella said.
Premier Giuseppe Conte visited the Ardeatine Caves, the site in Rome's outskirts where 335 people were massacred in 1944 by occupying German forces.
Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio visited Rome's main synagogue and said that more work must be done to fight racism and anti-Semitism in light of events like the banner praising Mussolini.
The Italian soccer league's governing body vowed to do "everything in our power" to wipe out racism in the sport. In addition to the Mussolini banner, Lazio's Italian Cup semifinal victory at AC Milan was overshadowed by racist abuse directed at Milan players who are black.
On April 25, 1945, Allied troops freed Italy from the Nazi occupation and Mussolini's rule. The yearly holiday honors those who served in the resistance.