Di Canio: I'm a Fascist, Not a Racist'

MILAN - Lazio striker Paolo Di Canio is to appeal against a ban and a fine imposed following a recent straight-arm salute, claiming that while the gesture is fascist it not of a racist character.

"I am a fascist, not a racist," Di Canio told the Italian news agency ANSA on Friday. "I give the straight arm salute because it is a salute from a `camerata' to `camerati,'" he said using the Italian words for members of the late dictator Benito Mussolini's fascist movement.

"The salute is aimed at my people. With the straight arm I don't want to incite violence and certainly not racial hatred," he said.

Di Canio missed Lazio's game at Lecce on Wednesday after he was banned for one match and fined 10,000 euros for making the fascist-style salute during a recent Serie A match.

The former Celtic and West Ham United player first produced the salute during a Rome derby last season.

His gesture has been widely condemned by politicians, players, fans and Jewish groups, but he has won backing from some right-wing politicians.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, owner of AC Milan, this week said the salute "did not have any significance" and described the player as "an exhibitionist but a good lad."

In his autobiography Di Canio makes clear his admiration for Mussolini and he also wears a tattoo with the word "Dux" - Latin for "Duce," the name Mussolini gave himself during his rule over the country.

Di Canio was a member of Lazio's hardcore "ultras" fan group before becoming a player. The Lazio ultras are known for their far-right sympathies and links.