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ROME (Reuters) - A junior Italian equal opportunities minister was removed from her post on Saturday less than 24 hours after being sworn in to the new coalition government, after she said gays invited discrimination by "ghettoizing" themselves.
The abrupt departure of Michaela Biancofiore to another ministry was a fresh reminder of just how delicate Prime Minister Enrico Letta's fledgling left-right coalition is.
Gay rights groups protested on Friday after Biancofiore, a parliamentarian from former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom party (PDL), was made an undersecretary in the equal opportunities ministry.
They accused her of having made comments they considered homophobic, a charge she denied.
Responding to the criticism, she told Italian newspapers on Saturday: "For once, I would like to see gay associations, instead of 'ghettoizing' themselves ... say something to condemn the recent spate of killings of women (in Italy). All they do is defend their own interests".
According to Italian media, her comments had upset Letta, particularly because he had appealed to members of his government just a day before to observe "sobriety" in their public comments and work as a team.
Biancofiore, who says she is opposed to gay marriage but supports "civil unions" to protect gay couples, was re-assigned to the civil service ministry.
Letta's government is made up of his Democratic Party (PD), Berlusconi's PDL and centrists led by former prime minister Mario Monti, an uneasy alliance pitting old political enemies against each other.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; editing by Mike Collett-White)