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Italy's government Thursday approved a bill that makes denying the Holocaust a crime and stiffens prison sentences for those found guilty of inciting racial hatred.

The decree, submitted by Justice Minister Clemente Mastella, received unanimous approval by the Romano Prodi cabinet. Italy will celebrate Holocaust Memorial Day on Saturday.

Ministry officials said those found guilty of spreading ideas about a race being superior to another would now risk up to three years in prison while acts designed to incite racial, ethnic, religious or sexual violence would be punishable with a maximum four- year prison sentence.

Initially conceived to target Holocaust deniers, the bill was broadened to include all forms of intolerance after some members of Prodi's centre-left coalition had expressed reservations about the appropriateness of using the criminal code to honour the millions of Jews killed in the Shoah.