Italy in limbo after PM Conte attacks Salvini and resigns

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte offered his resignation to the Senate, lashing out at Matteo Salvini for pursuing his own interests by pulling the plug on the coalition (AFP)
Updated 20 August 2019

Italy in limbo after PM Conte attacks Salvini and resigns

  • The move leaves the eurozone’s third largest economy in a political vacuum until President Sergio Mattarella decides whether to form a new coalition or call an election
  • The end of the 14-month-old coalition government opens the way for Mattarella to begin consultations with political parties, with a range of options available

ROME: Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Tuesday he would resign, lashing out at far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for pursuing his own interests by pulling the plug on the government coalition.
The move leaves the eurozone’s third largest economy in a political vacuum until President Sergio Mattarella decides whether to form a new coalition or call an election after talks with parties in the coming days.
“I’m ending this government experience here... I will go to the president of the republic to inform him of my resignation,” Conte said after an almost hour-long speech to the Senate.
“It is irresponsible to initiate a government crisis,” Conte said after Salvini began his efforts to bring down the government in the hope of snap elections he believes will make him premier.
Conte was speaking following a week of fallout from Salvini’s decision to back out of the alliance between his League party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement on August 8, plunging Italy into political turmoil.
After Conte announced his intention to resign, Senate speaker Elisabette Casellati told Salvini to leave the government bench and join his party’s senators, where Salvini said: “Thank you, finally, I would do it all again.”
“The Italians vote with their heads and hearts,” Salvini said, invoking the Virgin Mary to “protect the Italian people” and repeating his call for snap elections while also making a final appeal to M5S.
Caught on the back foot, Salvini last week made the surprise offer to back a key M5S proposal to cut the number of lawmakers from 950 to 605, but only if new elections were then swiftly held.
“Making citizens vote is the essence of democracy, asking them to vote every year is irresponsible,” Conte said as League senators booed and hissed.
“I heard you calling for ‘full powers’ and invoke (demonstrations in) the piazzas to support you, which worries me,” Conte said.
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1922 assumed so-called full powers to govern the country at his whim.
The end of the 14-month-old coalition government opens the way for Mattarella to begin consultations with political parties, with a range of options available.
A snap election, the forming of a new coalition without holding a new vote, and, although unlikely, the continuation of the current government would all be considered.
As leader of the far-right League, Salvini has proudly promoted his nationalist, anti-immigrant agenda and his blunt attacks against migrants, gay marriage and Islam have helped his party soar in opinion polls.
The political crisis has raised concerns about the Italian economy, whose debt ratio at 132 percent of gross domestic product is the second-biggest in the eurozone after Greece.
Since the unwieldy government was formed in June 2018, uncertainty under the coalition has cost the country an extra five billion euros ($5.54 billion) in interest on its debt.
Salvini’s plan for a snap election — more than three years early — had envisioned a vote in October followed by him being crowned as prime minister.
According to opinion polls, the League could form a coalition with the anti-immigration, anti-LGBT Brothers of Italy, and possibly Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia.
But a bid by his rivals to put aside their differences and forge an alliance could derail Salvini’s plan, with a coalition between M5S and the opposition center-left Democratic Party (PD) being discussed.
While there is bad blood between the two parties, M5S is languishing in the polls and wants to avoid an early election.
A PD-M5S coalition could lead to the opposite of what Salvini intended — with him out of government altogether instead of being its sole leader.
Former PD premier Matteo Renzi on Tuesday said that he “would not be part” of a PD-M5S alliance, as many in the anti-establishment party resent him as part of the old elite.
According to some analysts, Conte could also stay on as premier while trying to form an alliance with PD.
M5S leader Luigi Di Maio sent an open letter on Tuesday calling for Conte to take this option, describing him as a “rare pearl, a servant of the nation that Italy cannot lose.”
Salvini has been furious at the idea of being squeezed out by a M5S-PD alliance, saying he would get his supporters to “peacefully take to the streets” if it came about, although he made no mention of this call in the Senate.
But M5S founder, the comedian Beppe Grillo, has rejected talk of reconciliation with Salvini, whom he reportedly described as an “untrustworthy traitor.”


Police clear major migrant camp in northern France

Updated 2 min 18 sec ago

Police clear major migrant camp in northern France

  • The mayor of Grande-Synthe in December 2018 opened up the sports hall to migrant families seeking shelter from the cold
  • Since then, it has grown into a makeshift camp, with around 800 people sleeping in tents pitched around the crammed gymnasium

GRANDE-SYNTHE, France: French police began clearing around 1,000 migrants from a gymnasium near the northern port of Dunkirk on Thursday after a court ruled it was a health and security hazard.
The mayor of Grande-Synthe in December 2018 opened up the sports hall to migrant families seeking shelter from the cold.
Since then, it has grown into a makeshift camp, with around 800 people sleeping in tents pitched around the crammed gymnasium where around 170 people, mostly Iraqi Kurds hoping to reach Britain, had been sheltering.
Thursday’s clearance operation began shortly after 8:00 am (0600 GMT).
Young men traveling alone were the first to board buses that will take them to shelters around the region, where they can apply for asylum.
Families were to be moved later.
Northern France has long been a magnet for people seeking to smuggle themselves to Britain in the tens of thousands of trucks and cars that travel daily between the countries on ferries and trains.
The area around Grande-Synthe has traditionally drawn Iraqi Kurds and has been repeatedly cleared in recent years.
A court in the regional city of Lille ordered the gymnasium shut on September 4 following complaints from local authorities and residents about violence, garbage and the presence of people-smugglers among the migrants.
French authorities have had a policy of trying to prevent migrants forming camps since 2016 when they razed a notorious illegal squat nicknamed the “Jungle” near the port of Calais which was home to 10,000 people at its height.
But rights groups have criticized police tactics.
In December, the country’s human rights ombudsman denounced the “extreme destitution” suffered by people camping out or sleeping under bridges in the area.
The ombudsman, Jacques Toubon, accused the authorities of “trying to make (migrants) invisible” by regularly tearing down their camps without providing them with viable alternatives.
French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to speed up the asylum claims process for people deemed to be bona fide refugees, while vowing to accelerate the deportation procedure for so-called economic migrants.