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POLITICS

Italian ministers get police guard as tensions rise over crisis

Italy has placed a second government minister under police protection amid fears of physical violence as social tensions rise over the handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

Italian ministers get police guard as tensions rise over crisis
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Police said that Italian education minister Lucia Azzolina has been given a police escort following threats against her

On Monday, deputy health minister Pierpaolo Sileri was given police protection after receiving threats in connection with coronavirus aid

And police were also asked on Wednesday to guard the governor of the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, after he was called a “murderer” in graffiti in Milan and received threats on social media.

Lombardy in northern Italy was the region hit hardest by the pandemic, which has killed over 33,000 people, and Fontana has been heavily criticised in some quarters for failing to curb the spread of the virus in the region.

Italy is also struggling to restart following an economically-crippling nationwide lockdown which lasted two and a half months.

“There's a risk social tensions and exasperation could explode across the country,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said.

Both ministers under police protection belong to the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) which is part of Italy's ruling coalition, while Fontana is a member of the far-right populist League party, in opposition.

Fontana said he had not requested the escort and insisted it would in no way affect his work.

“Sadly we know that it's only a small step between verbal and physical violence… We will keep up our guard,” Environment Minister Sergio Costa said.

“It's very troubling that such a climate of hate and threats has been created around schools, healthcare and other sensitive and important issues,” he added.

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POLITICS

Italian PM Meloni refuses to back down on reporter ‘defamation’ trial

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Tuesday she will not withdraw her defamation suit against anti-mafia reporter Roberto Saviano, despite growing criticism that her position of power might skew the trial in her favour.

Italian PM Meloni refuses to back down on reporter 'defamation' trial

On Tuesday, the hard-right leader told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that she was confident the case would be treated with the necessary “impartiality”.

Meloni sued anti-mafia reporter Saviano for alleged defamation after he called her a “bastard” in a 2020 televised outburst over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but took office last month after an electoral campaign that promised to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the trial, which opened earlier in November, to be scrapped.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia reporter on trial for ‘defaming’ Italy’s far-right PM

“I don’t understand the request to withdraw the complaint on the pretext that I am now prime minister,” Meloni said.

“I believe that all this will be treated with impartiality, considering the separation of powers.”

She also added: “I am simply asking the court where the line is between the legitimate right to criticise, gratuitous insult and defamation.”

Saviano, best known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

The case dates back to December 2020 when Saviano was asked on a political TV chat show for a comment on the death of a six-month-old baby from Guinea in a shipwreck.

On the occasion, he railed at Meloni, who in 2019 had said that charity vessels which rescue migrants “should be sunk”.

Saviano is not the only journalist Meloni is taking to trial. One of the country’s best-known investigative reporters, Emiliano Fittipaldi, said last week the prime minister had sued him for defamation.

READ ALSO: Italian PM Meloni takes another investigative reporter to court

That trial is set to start in 2024.

Watchdogs say such trials are symbolic of a culture in Italy in which public figures intimidate reporters with repeated lawsuits, threatening the erosion of a free press.

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