Hollywood actor Robert De Niro's bid to become an Italian citizen has hit trouble after Italian-Americans complained his onscreen gangster roles have tarnished their image.

The 60-year-old star - famous for playing mafia hardmen in films such as The Godfather and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA - was due to receive his citizenship at the Venice Film Festival next month (SEP04).

But yesterday (12AUG04) Washington DC-based SONS OF ITALY - a lobby group for Italians living in America - begged Italian Prime Minister SILVIO BERLUSCONI to scrap the idea.

In a letter, president JOSEPH SCIAME wrote, "I urge the Italian Republic to cancel proposals to give citizenship to Robert De Niro.

"He has done nothing to promote the image of Italians. He has damaged their image by constantly promoting roles that tarnish their reputation."

De Niro qualifies through his great-grandparents who emigrated to New York from the village of Ferrazzano in central Italy. He will become a dual citizen of his native America and Italy.

But major of Ferrazzano, GIOVANNI GIANFELICE is furious with the Sons of Italy's stance.

He says, "We have waited years for this offer. The government cannot change their mind. If they do I will personally travel to Venice and make De Niro a citizen of Ferrazzano."

The ITALIAN MINISTRY OF CULTURE confirmed that the actor's citizenship award may have to be delayed until after the film festival while it investigates the complaint.

13/08/2004 14:00