Italy’s Salvini demands apology after declaring athlete egg attack ‘not racist’

Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is demanding an apology over reports he is stoking racism after claiming that a drive-by egg attack on a promising black Italian athlete wasn't racially motivated.

Italy's Salvini demands apology after declaring athlete egg attack 'not racist'
Photo: AFP/Youtube

Salvini, also deputy prime minister, had been blasted for what the Italian left has called a climate of hate created by his anti-immigrant rhetoric following the attack on Daisy Osakue near northern city Turin on Sunday night, linked to a string of recent attacks on black people and immigrants.

The three teenage culprits were caught by police on Thursday and charged with assault, and Italian media reported that investigators linked them to similar attacks that targeted white Italians.

“Three quarters of Italian journalists took up column space talking about an athlete who was the victim of a racist attack. Rubbish: it was three spoiled brats who have fun by chucking eggs,” Salvini, leader of the nationalist League, said in an interview with news channel Sky TG24.

“I expect an apology to the League and Italians.”

Osakue, 22, the holder of the under-23 discus record (59.72m), was only Friday given the green light to travel with the Italian team to next week's European Championships, after worries that the treatment for her eye injuries might fall foul of anti-doping regulations.

Images of Osakue's face after the attack were all over Italian media the next day, with the athlete saying in television interviews that she believed her attackers were “looking for a person of colour, a woman” and mistook her for a prostitute, who work in the area.

Federico De Pascali, 19, who was discovered by police to have taken part in the assault, said in an interview with daily La Stampa that racism “had nothing to do” with the attack.

De Pascali, son of a left-wing town councillor in nearby Vinovo, says he was driving when two of his friends struck Osakue as she was returning home in the town of Moncalieri, and admitted that this wasn't their first egg-throwing escapade.

“We've thrown eggs at people before, just for a laugh,” said De Pascali.

“I didn't want to hurt her. I'd really like to say sorry to her.”

The assault had been linked with around 30 incidents of violence — two fatal — against African immigrants which have taken place since June.

A demonstration was held in the southern city of Naples on Friday after a young Senegalese street vendor was shot in the leg by assailants on a scooter on Thursday.


Italy defies virus for vote as far-right hopes to retake regions

Italians head to the polls on Sunday -- to the alarm of coronavirus experts -- for a referendum and regional elections that could weaken the government and radically reshape the political landscape.

Italy defies virus for vote as far-right hopes to retake regions
La Lega leader Matteo Salvini (hand raised) next to Susanna Ceccardi, the Tuscany candidate for the right-wing coalition. Photo: Carlo Bressan/AFP
Just a week after a Herculean effort by schools to reopen in line with last-minute Covid-19 rules, classrooms across the country will be shut to pupils and transformed into ballot stations for the two-day vote.
A triumph for the far-right in this fiercely fought campaign would sound alarm bells in Brussels.
It will be the first test for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's centre-left coalition government since it imposed an economically crippling nationwide lockdown to fight the virus, which has killed almost 36,000 people.
The referendum, on slashing the number of members of parliament — from 630 to 400 in the lower house, and 315 to 200 in the upper house — is expected to pass, though there has been a late uptick in the number of prominent 'no' declarations.
The cost-cutting reform is the brainchild of the co-governing Five Star Movement (M5S), but while its centre-left coalition Democratic Party (PD) partner and parties on the right are theoretically in favour, their support has been lacklustre at best.
Uncertain future
The regional battle is for governance of Campania, Liguria, Marche, Puglia, Tuscany, Valle d'Aosta and Veneto.
The right-wing coalition is set to easily retake Veneto and Liguria, and it could also snatch Marche and Puglia from the left.
But all eyes will be on Tuscany, a historic left-wing stronghold that might fall to Matteo Salvini's far-right League.
“If the left performs particularly poorly… Brussels will grow concerned,” Berenberg economist Florian Hense told AFP.
It will worry whether the national recovery plan Italy has to present to obtain grants or loans to aid its ailing economy after the coronavirus lockdown “will be ambitious enough, given the limited political capital of the coalition in Rome,” he said.
“And whether, whatever plan Italy comes up with, it will actually implement it given the uncertain future of the current coalition”.
Concern over virus
The poll is going ahead despite warnings against opening polling stations while Covid-19 case numbers are on the rise.
While Italy currently has fewer new cases than Britain, France or Spain, it is still recording more than 1,500 daily.
“The country is in a state of emergency; it is utterly contradictory to be massing people together at polling stations, particularly in light of the trend in Europe,” Professor Massimo Galli, infectious diseases chief at Milan's Sacco hospital, told AFP.
He said previously that holding the elections now would be “madness”. Some precautions have been taken however, with elderly and pregnant voters getting fast-track lanes to vote.
With older people potentially put off voting by the health risks, the left has been organising special transport.
One in three of voters for the PD and League are over 65-years old, according to Italy's Corriere della Sera daily.
Nearly 2,000 voters in isolation due to the coronavirus have also registered to have their votes collected, including former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
But fear of catching the virus from voters obliged to pull down their masks to allow them to be identified has seen a flurry of last-minute desertions by polling station volunteers.
Milan was forced Saturday to call urgently for 100 fresh pairs of hands.
Prime Minister Conte has clinched a behind-doors deal with PD leader Nicola Zingaretti to fight to save each other's political skins should the left should perform disastrously, according to the Repubblica daily.
That might not be enough.
“These elections are not going to topple the government,” Political commentator Barbara Fiammeri for Italy's Sole 24 Ore daily told AFP.
“But there could well be a crisis, whether it be Conte's fall, the forming of new coalition, or even a national unity government”.