Italy’s Salvini calls for European anti-migrant alliance at rally

PONTIDA: Italy’s hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called for a Europe-wide alliance against “mass immigration” at a triumphant annual gathering of his far-right League party on Sunday, after declaring the country’s ports closed to NGO migrant ships.
“I think of a league of Leagues in Europe, which unites all the free movements that want to defend their borders and the well-being of their children,” Salvini said at his fifth party conference in the northern port of Pontida.
Around 50,000 people from around Italy attended the event, local media reported, drawn by Salvini’s “Italians first” rallying cry.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” Salvini told the crowds, to hear the “calls of love coming from Pontida”.
He said the League had cemented its place as the “most populist party” in Europe. “The term is a compliment to me,” the 45-year-old, clad in a blue T-shirt bearing his own portrait, told journalists earlier.
“I will tour capital cities, and not just European ones, to create an alternative to this Europe founded on exploitation… (and) mass immigration.” Salvini, who is also co-deputy prime minister, has thrived with his hardline stance as the migrant issue has become central to the European Union’s agenda.
He announced on Friday that Italian ports would be closed “all summer” to charity ships which rescue migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe.
“The NGOs will only see Italy on a postcard,” Salvini had quipped.
“The decision to open or close ports is taken by the interior minister,” he said on Sunday.
Anti-immigration hardliners accuse the rescuers of exacerbating the situation in the Mediterranean, where migrants try to cross the sea on rickety boats from North Africa.
The issue has once again exposed the rifts plaguing the European Union, as member states fight over how to handle the influx of people fleeing war, poverty and persecution trying to reach the continent.
On Friday, the bloc’s 28 leaders hammered out a hard-fought agreement aimed at clamping down on immigration. But key divisions remain regarding its implementation.
Salvini — who has forged alliances with other far-right Europeans including France’s National Rally — said on Sunday that the 2019 European Parliament elections will be a referendum on “a Europe without borders… and a Europe that protects its citizens”.
Italy’s new anti-establishment government took power on June 1, ending months of deadlock that saw the eurozone’s third largest economy narrowly avoid snap elections after a last-gasp coalition deal.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was sworn in at the head of the first far-right, populist government in an EU founding member, forged by the League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. — AFP