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Italy’s Five Star Movement votes to keep Luigi Di Maio as leader

Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) voted Thursday to keep leader Luigi Di Maio after the party's flop in European elections.

Italy's Five Star Movement votes to keep Luigi Di Maio as leader
Luigi Di Maio called - and won - a vote of confidence in himself. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Some 80 percent of those who voted on the M5S online platform said he should stay on, according to the M5S official blog.

The M5S rules in coalition with Matteo Salvini's hard-right League, which won a resounding victory in Italy on the back of an “Italians First” campaign, dealing a blow to the M5S and threatening the stability of the government.

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“You decide. I am asking to put my role as party leader to the vote,” Di Maio wrote on the blog as called the vote on Wednesday. “If the Movement renews its faith in me, we'll get to work… with even more commitment and dedication.”

Some 44,850 members voted to save Di Maio's job, compared to around 11,300 who wanted him gone.

The EU vote results confirmed the reversal of fortunes of the ruling parties, with M5S — which got 32.5 percent at the general election — taking just 17 percent on Sunday compared to the League's 34 percent.

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The M5S chief had been criticised by part of the Movement's base for taking on too much with his three roles as party head, deputy prime minister and economic development, labour and social policies minister.

Di Maio blamed the M5S's poor performance on low voter turnout, as well as a mud-slinging campaign by the League against which it was slow to retaliate.

He received a show of support on Wednesday from comedian Beppe Grillo, the M5S co-founder, who remains an influential figure within the Movement despite withdrawing from the political scene to focus on his stand-up career.

A new direction for Italy's Five Star Movement? Beppe Grillo distances himself from the party he founded
Beppe Grillo (L) and the party's new leader Luigi Di Maio with the Five Star Movement's new logo. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

“The Movement has suffered a defeat and must react,” he conceded on his website. However, he said he was “wounded” by those M5S members who were acting “as if it were a drop in the sales of a multinational company”.

“Luigi has not committed any crime, he is not involved in any scandal. He must carry on the fight,” Grillo said. 

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POLITICS

Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.

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