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POLITICS

Five Star Movement’s ultimatum to the Italian right: Ditch Berlusconi by Sunday

Italy's anti-establishment party leader Luigi Di Maio on Wednesday gave far-right leader Matteo Salvini until the "end of the week" to dump coalition ally Silvio Berlusconi and strike a deal in the latest round of Italian government talks.

Five Star Movement's ultimatum to the Italian right: Ditch Berlusconi by Sunday
Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi after talks at the presidential palace. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Earlier, Italian President Sergio Mattarella tasked Senate speaker Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati with brokering an agreement by Friday between Di Maio's Five Star Movement (M5S) and Salvini's nationalist League party, which leads a right-wing coalition that contains Berlusconi's Forza Italia.

The pair are vying to lead the country out of weeks of political deadlock that has emerged from the inconclusive March 4th general election.

The third round of consultations centres on Di Maio's refusal to deal with Berlusconi, whom the M5S sees as a symbol of political corruption, and the 81-year-old media magnate's distaste for the “anti-democratic” M5S.

After meeting the Senate speaker on Wednesday afternoon, Di Maio dug his heels in, calling Salvini's right-wing grouping “an electoral gimmick” and demanding that he come to the negotiating table alone.

“I expect a definitive response [from Salvini] by the end of the week,” Di Maio told reporters.

“The country can't wait any longer.”

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Di Maio, 31, wants to create a German-style “government contract” with the League.

“The only forces capable of signing this contract and forming a government in these consultations are the M5S and the League,” he added.

Alberti Casellati is an ally of former prime minister Berlusconi, and her election as the first-ever female Senate speaker was part of a pact that aimed to smooth the path to an alliance between the M5S and the League.

They have been battling over who should lead the government since the M5S became Italy's largest single party at the polls with just under 33 percent of the vote and the right picked up 37 percent.

Despite Di Maio's pressure, Salvini has refused to break up the grouping that won the most number of seats in the parliament and has given him a chance of becoming prime minister.

“I don't see respect for the people's vote. The one that came second dictating the rules to the one that came first,” Salvini said.

Di Maio's ultimatum is designed to put pressure on Salvini, who is eyeing elections on April 29th in the northeastern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, where a League candidate backed by Forza Italia is favourite to win.

It also opens the door to potential future talks with centre-left Democratic Party (PD), who are not involved in this round of consultations after their coalition came third and subsequently refused to deal with either the right or M5S.

Berlusconi on Wednesday assured that he had not vetoed any alliance with the M5S and hinted that there might be a new round of talks with the Senate Speaker on Thursday. 

READ ALSO: Who is Elisabetta Casellati? The woman trying to break Italy's parliamentary deadlock

Who is Elisabetta Casellati? The woman trying to break Italy's parliamentary deadlock
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

POLITICS

Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.

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