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Italian premier battles with Salvini ahead of key Senate vote

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. (MAURIZIO BRAMBATTI /ANSA/AP)
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte traded blows Tuesday with his former ally Matteo Salvini ahead of a Senate vote of confidence on Italy’s new left-leaning coalition government.

Salvini, who leads the far-right League, last month pulled the plug on the previous government, also led by Conte, which comprised the League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).

“I am leaving you your (government) seat and I am keeping my honour and the affection of millions of Italians,” Salvini told the premier in a rowdy Senate chamber.

Salvini and his peers accuse Conte of betrayal because, after leading the old League-M5S government, he has returned as premier in a new, anti-League coalition.

The coalition brings together the M5S and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), two former sworn enemies which have joined forces against the League leader.

Salvini broke ties with the M5S, emboldened by a landslide victory in May’s EU elections.

He hoped to trigger – and win – snap elections, not expecting the M5S and PD to form an alternate coalition.

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“This is a government based on the sharing of (the spoils of power) and on the fear” of losing at the next elections, the League leader charged against his foes.

In his reply, Conte said Salvini’s failed power bid through snap elections displayed “a certain arrogance and a scant knowledge of constitutional law”.

Hours earlier, as the prime minister walked into the upper chamber, he was greeted by members of the League with chants of “traitor, traitor”.

The debate was scheduled to wrap up at around 6 pm (1600 GMT) with the vote of confidence.

The government was expected to win it, but its expected majority is slim.

Conte won a first vote late Monday in the in the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, by a comfortable 343-263 margin. Losing any of the two votes would trigger the government’s resignation.

Without Salvini, Italy’s new administration is expected to be more conciliatory towards the European Union and to soften hardline migration laws the League leader introduced as interior minister.

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Conte said it was time to move on from Salvini’s “closed ports” slogan – directed against migrant rescue vessels – and take a more balanced approach to the issue.

YEE

(Edited by Emmanuel Yashim)

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