Populists campaign in Sicily after forming new Italian government

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The two pillars of Italy’s first populist government have been campaigning in Sicily, days after taking office.

Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio, the leaders of the right-wing League and Eurosceptic 5-Star Movement, respectively, were in Sicily on Sunday, a week before council elections on the island region.

They want to capitalise on the momentum of their coalition taking national office on Friday.

Italy Politics
Demonstrators protested against Matteo Salvini during his visit to Sicily (Andrea Scarfo/ANSA via AP)

The 5-Star Movement is parliament’s largest party thanks to support from southern Italy, where voters in the March election liked Di Maio’s promise of a minimum income for the unemployed.

The north-based League stokes fears about migrants, who have arrived in huge numbers in Sicily. Salvini vows to expel them.

He dismissed logistical challenges and costs.

“It’s too costly to keep them in Italy, in hotels,” Salvini said. The money would be better spent “building a future for them” in their home countries.

Many of the League’s voters associate migrants with crime. Salvini said holding centres for those awaiting deportation would be built so “they won’t leave from morning till night”.

Sicilians in general have shown patience in dealing with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of newcomers. Some islanders angrily rejected the anti-migrant rhetoric.

They protested during Salvini’s visit to a so-called “hot spot” in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo, where many of the ships that rescue migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea in smugglers’ boats dock.

Holding a banner reading “Refugees welcome,” the protesters shouted “Salvini, go home!” and “Salvini, shame on you.”

Pozzallo mayor Roberto Ammatuna disputed Salvini’s claim that the island had become “a refugee camp of Europe”.

The mayor retorted: “Here there are beaches full, and tourists.”

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