Italy government draws flak after covering nude statues at museum in bid not to offend visiting Iranian president

Iran President Hassan Rouhani (left) talks with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the Campidoglio palace in Rome, Italy, on Jan. 25, 2016.Reuters

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's official visit to Rome on Monday was marred with some controversy after Italian authorities covered up nude statues exhibited at a world-famous museum in the country ahead of his visit.

Plain white boards were seen obscuring the sculptures in the city's Capitoline Museum while large white panels covered the nude statues inside the Esedra room to avoid offending the Iranian leader who was holding a press conference there, according to the Huffington Post.

The statues were covered in a show of respect for Iranian culture and sensibilities, according to Italian news agency Ansa. Wine was also scrapped from the menu during the formal dinner hosted for Rouhani, Ansa reported.

The decision, however, caused a stir in the country with critics in both liberal and conservative parties calling it a disgrace to Italian culture.

"The choice of shielding the nudity of several statues at the Capitoline Museum is worthy of the worst Islamic terrorist. It's a decision that offends Western culture, as well as the supremacy of art as a vehicle for culture and liberty," said Fabio Rampelli, leader of the right-wing Fratelli d'Italia-Alleanza party.

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"It is a shameful act, and one that [Culture] Minister Franceschini will have to answer for," he said.

Secretary of the right-wing Lega Nord political party, Matteo Salvini, was equally critical, calling the move "crazy" on his Facebook page. Barbara Saltamartini, a deputy with Lega Nord, called the authorities' decision "an act of submission."

Some politicians from former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party also denounced the decision.

"Covering up statues in the Capitoline Museum for Rohani's visit is a demonstration of excessive zeal, and therefore cannot be supported. This isn't respect, it's a denial of differences and perhaps even submission," Forza Italia's Luca Squeri said.

"It's proof that when Renzi talks about identity and integration, it's pointless babble. Because people are not supposed to hide their identities, and without valuing identity, we'll never have true integration," Squeri added.

Prior to his schedule dinner with French President Francois Hollande in November, Rouhani reportedly requested a wine-free table and halal meat. The visit, however, was postponed following the Paris attacks.

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