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Italy parliament approves new government

Italy's parliament on Wednesday endorsed a new government tipped to be so short-lived that its inauguration was seen as the start of battle for the next election.

Italy parliament approves new government
The newly appointed government ministers. Photo: AFP

Incoming Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni's new line-up, appointed after Matteo Renzi quit a week ago following a crushing referendum defeat, was approved by 169 votes for to 99 against in the Senate.

That completed a required parliamentary approval process that was boycotted by some opposition parties which claim the government has no legitimacy in light of the referendum defeat.

Gentiloni has been slammed for naming a new line-up that is virtually a carbon copy of the team that served Renzi.

READ MORE: Meet the key figures in Italy's new government

Italy's biggest opposition party, the populist Five Star Movement (M5S), led the boycott.

Comedian Beppe Grillo's party is betting that a wave of street protests will serve it better as it seeks to displace Renzi's Democratic Party as the country's biggest political force in the countdown to the election.

Opinion polls currently point to them being neck-and-neck, each able to count on the backing of around 30 percent of voters.

With all the opposition parties pounding away at it, the 'photocopy' or 'puppet' government issue has played well on social media with the new premier accused of being a #RenziCloni or heading up a #Genticlone government.

So far, it does not seem to have helped the opposition significantly. But the issue is reportedly causing concern among some Democratic Party officials who fear the longer the Gentiloni administration goes on, the stronger M5S will get.

Gentiloni said on Tuesday his government would continue as long as it could command a majority in parliament, suggesting he would like to continue until the end of the current parliament in February 2018.

'Digging own grave'

But centre-left daily La Repubblica said that would be a “nightmare” scenario for Renzi, who is planning to be the PD's candidate for a return to his old job, and is said to prefer a June election.

Luigi Di Maio, the sharp-suited 30-year-old tipped to be M5S's candidate, claimed that every single day of a Gentiloni administration would be a bonus for his party.

“They are digging their grave with their own hands,” he said.

Renzi meanwhile said he was not short of offers of employment after nearly three years as premier.

But he indicated he would be concentrating on his comeback in between doing the school run and getting stuck in traffic around his home town of Pontassieve in Tuscany.

“I know I have a responsibility to all the people who believe in the PD and I can't just say I'm dropping everything,” Renzi was quoted as saying by La Repubblica.

Business as usual

The 41-year-old ex-premier is widely seen as having ensured grey-suited Gentiloni took over because he is unlikely to emerge as a serious rival for the party leadership.

Gentiloni, 62, whose measured, softly-spoken manner is in sharp contrast to Renzi's more frenetic style, is due to attend a summit of EU leaders on Thursday.

PROFILE: Paolo Gentiloni, a Renzi ally and former student radical with aristocratic roots

He has said he will use the Brussels meeting to reiterate Italy's demands for more support on dealing with the arrival of tens of thousands of migrants on its southern shores and for greater leeway on the application of budget rules.

The new leader has reshuffled Renzi's cabinet slightly with former interior minister Angelino Alfano taking over as foreign minister and created a new ministry to promote the economic development of the relatively impoverished south of the country.

Otherwise, it is business as usual on domestic matters: to the delight of the opposition.

By Angus MacKinnon

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POLITICS

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.

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