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Italian far-right politician sparks row over Roma comments

A politician with Italy’s far-right League has sparked outrage after implying that the party would rid the streets of Roma people if it wins general elections later this month.

Alessio Di Giulio, a League councillor in Florence, filmed a video of himself walking up to a Roma woman and, speaking to the camera, said: “Vote for the League on 25 September and you’ll never see her again.”

Di Giulio made the clip as he walked along a busy street in the centre of Florence, and the woman happily waved before realising his intention. “No, don’t say that,” she responded. “I am not afraid.”

The League, led by Matteo Salvini, is part of a three-way coalition including its far-right counterpart Brothers of Italy and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italy that is forecast to win the elections.

Clamping down on the Roma community by conducting a census and expelling those living in Italy illegally was among Salvini’s pledges in the 2018 national vote.

Di Giulio’s video was condemned by Enrico Letta, the leader of the centre-left Democratic party.

“Some shocking things are happening in this election campaign,” said Letta, referring also to Giorgia Meloni, the Brothers of Italy leader and the country’s possible next prime minister who last month shared a video of a Ukrainian woman being raped by an asylum seeker in an Italian city. “How much further will they go?”

Di Giulio defended himself against accusations of racism by Dario Nardella, the mayor of Florence, arguing that he has a Nigerian girlfriend and simply wanted to denounce “the crime of begging”. While there are some restrictions, it is not a crime to beg in Italy.

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Salvini said the video was “dumb”. “You resolve problems with the forces of law and order, with resolutions, not with videos taking it out on one person,” he added.

Support for the League, once Italy’s biggest party, has more than halved in recent years, as Meloni’s star has risen. Her party leads the rightwing coalition and edged up to almost 26% in an opinion poll on Tuesday, widening the gap with the Democratic party, which polled at 21.4%.

Traditional supporters of the League, especially business owners in its northern strongholds, are turning their backs on the party as a result of Salvini’s contribution to the collapse of Mario Draghi’s government in July and his stance on sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has previously heaped praise on Vladimir Putin, said on Monday that rather than hurting Russia the sanctions were damaging the countries imposing them. His position clashes with that of Meloni, who sought to reassure international observers that if the coalition enters government, it would support Ukraine and abide by the EU and Nato line on Russian sanctions.