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Why a wave of anti-Salvini protests is sweeping Italy

The removal of a protest banner against Italian far-right League leader and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has sparked widespread protests around the country.

Why a wave of anti-Salvini protests is sweeping Italy
Riot police clashed with anti-League protestors in Naples on Thursday. Photo: CARLO HERMANN/AFP

The previously sporadic protests became a wave after authorities in northern city Bergamo on Monday ordered firefighters to remove a banner reading “You're not welcome” ahead of the minister's visit.

Firefighers removing the protest banner ahead of Salvini's visit to Bergamo on Monday. Photo: Giorigio Gori/Twitter

Photo and video footage of the removal went viral, triggering widespread anger and concerns about attempts to curb freedom of expression and peaceful protest.

In response, protestors hung hundreds of similar protest banners in the city of Campobasso on Wednesday ahead of Salvini's rally,

Protests continued in Naples on Thursday, where Salvini received an even colder reception from residents angry about the minister insulting southern Italians.

A banner reading 'Naples renounces Salvini' on an apartment building in the city yesterday. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

The wave of protest comes as the social-media obsessed anti-immigrant League party leader continues his tour of Italy, frantically campaigning ahead of next week's European parliamentary elections.

Banners across Naples told Salvini he wasn't welcome ahead of his arrival for a securty meeting in the city, and riot police were sent in to quell protests as anti-League demonstrators gathered in a city square.

“Salvini go home!”, “Naples doesn't want you!”, “No to the minister of hate”, read some of the banners hanging from the city's famed balconies.

Many banners in Campobasso, Naples and elsewhere made references to “terroni”, a derogatory word equivalent to “rednecks” or “country bumpkins” that Salvini has used to describe southerners.

Salvini frequently derided southern Italians before his northern-separatist party, formerly known as the Northern League, became a national entity, chasing votes across the country with its “Italians first” slogan.

The minister has been widely mocked on social media, as Twitter users post photos of their favourite protest banners under the hashtag #Salvinitoglianchequesti (Salvini take these down as well)

“When are you going to work?” asked other banners, after Italian daily La Repubblica revealed this week that Salvini had spent just 17 days at the interior ministry so far this year.

A protest banner reading 'Salvini racist not in my name'. Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

Other banners goaded the nationalist about the 49 million euros of misspent public money that his party is supposed to pay back in instalments, or the Zorro toy Salvini revealed this week was stolen from him as a child.

“Some of the banners make me laugh,” Salvin tweeted, claiming that there have been 126 banners this year containing “insults and death threats”.

Protestors also continue to play photo and video pranks on the minister while he thinks they're posing for selfies.

The trend took off after two women kissed in a photo with the minister, known for his anti-LGBT views, and police seized the phone of a woman who made a video of herself asking Salvini whether he still thought southerners were “terroni”.

Meanwhile, prosecutors in Rome have opened an investigation following allegations in Italian media that Salvini has been misusing police aircraft to attend League party rallies around Italy. The minister denies any wrongdoing.

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ITALIAN POLITICS

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.

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