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France recalls Italy ambassador after worst verbal onslaught ‘since the war’

Published: Updated:

France has recalled its ambassador in Rome on Thursday after what it described as baseless and repeated attacks from Italy’s political leaders, whom it urged to return to a more friendly stance.

Italy’s two deputy prime ministers, Matteo Salvini of the right-wing League and Luigi Di Maio of the populist, anti-establishment 5-Star movement, have in recent months goaded French President Emmanuel Macron on a number of issues.

“France has been, for several months, the target of repeated, baseless attacks and outrageous statements,” its foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Having disagreements is one thing, but manipulating the relationship for electoral aims is another,” it added, calling Italy’s attacks without precedent since World War Two.

Di Maio has labelled France a creator of poverty in Africa and met with leaders of the “yellow vest” anti-government movement, while Salvini accused it of doing nothing to bring peace to Libya.

The two deputy premiers, who swept to power last year, appear to believe that attacking Macron, a fervent Europhile, would motivate their domestic voter base before EU elections in May.

“All of these actions are creating a serious situation which is raising questions about the Italian government’s intentions towards France,” said the French ministry.

Di Maio: Meeting yellow vests was legitimate

Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said his meeting with France’s “yellow vest” activists this week was legitimate and not meant as an act of provocation, after France recalled its ambassador to Rome on Thursday.

“To me that meeting was not a provocation against the current French government, but instead an important meeting with a political force with whom we share quite a lot, including the need for direct democracy to give more power to citizens,” Di Maio wrote on Facebook.

Calling the meeting “fully legitimate”, Di Maio said: “I have the right to dialogue with other political forces that represent the French people.”

He added that Italy was a friend and ally of the French people and he was willing to meet the Paris government to resolve differences.