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POLITICS

Italy blocks arms sales to Saudi Arabia permanently

The decision to freeze arms sales permanently came in the wake of controversy over former premier Matteo Renzi's video appearance with Saudi prince.

Italy blocks arms sales to Saudi Arabia permanently
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio. Photo: AFP

Italy on Friday revoked approval for arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over the conflict in Yemen, making permanent an 18-month temporary suspension.

“Today I am announcing that the government has revoked the authorisations underway for the export of missiles and aircraft bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said.

“(This is) an act that we considered due, a clear message of peace coming from our country. For us, respect for human rights is an unbreakable
commitment,” he said.

He did not mention Yemen but had referenced the conflict there when he ordered the initial suspension in July 2019.

According to Italy’s latest figures, dating to 2019, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ranked 10th and 11th in the list of the biggest markets for Italian arms exports.

Exports to Saudi Arabia were worth 105.4 million euros ($128 million), while those to the United Arab Emirates were worth 89.9 million euros.

Italy’s decision came in the wake of controversy over former premier Matteo Renzi’s guest appearance at a high-level event hosted by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Renzi, a longstanding foe of Di Maio, is under the spotlight for pulling his party’s support for the ruling coalition earlier this month and forcing the
resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s prime minister resigned and what happens now?

In Riyadh, he spoke at the Future Investment Initiative – dubbed “Davos in the desert” – in an apparently pre-recorded video with the prince.

Despite longstanding concerns about Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Renzi described the prince as his “friend” and said the Gulf oil monarchy “could be the place of a new Renaissance for the future”.

Italian newspaper Domani, which broke the story of Renzi’s Saudi trip, said he receives $80,000 a year for being on the advisory board of the FII.

Renzi said on Friday that this is not the time to question him about his Saudi trip and that he will answer questions Italy’s political crisis is resolved.

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POLITICS

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Days after Italy's far-right leader made a multilingual appeal to foreign commentators to take her seriously, her main rival in September elections issued his own tit-for-tat video Saturday condemning her record.

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Former prime minister Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, declared his pro-European credentials in a video in English, French and Spanish, while deriding the euroscepticism of Italy’s right-wing parties.

It echoes the trilingual video published this week by Giorgia Meloni, tipped to take power in the eurozone’s third largest economy next month, in which she sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist roots.

“We will keep fighting to convince Italians to vote for us and not for them, to vote for an Italy that will be in the heart of Europe,” Letta said in English.

His party and Meloni’s are neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of September 25 elections, both with around 23 percent of support.

But Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni is part of an alliance with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini, Letta has struggled to unite a fractured centre-left.

Speaking in French perfected in six years as a dean at Sciences Po university in Paris, Letta emphasised European solidarity, from which Italy is currently benefiting to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($205 billion) in
post-pandemic recovery funds.

“We need a strong Europe, we need a Europe of health, a Europe of solidarity. And we can only do that if there is no nationalism inside European countries,” he said.

He condemned the veto that he said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor “Orban — friends and allies of the Italian right — is using every time he can (to) harm Europe”.

In Spanish, Letta highlighted Meloni’s ties with Spain’s far-right party Vox, at whose rally she spoke earlier this summer, railing at the top of her voice against “LGBT lobbies”, Islamist violence, EU bureaucracy and mass
immigration.

In English, he condemned the economic legacy of Berlusconi, a three-time premier who left office in 2011 as Italy was on the brink of economic meltdown, but still leads his Forza Italia party.

Letta’s programme includes a focus on green issues — he intends to tour Italy in an electric-powered bus — and young people, but he has made beating Meloni a key plank of his campaign.

Meloni insisted in her video that fascism was in the past, a claim greeted with scepticism given her party still uses the logo of a flame used by the Italian Social Movement set up by supporters of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

In a joint manifesto published this week, Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini committed themselves to the EU but called for changes to its budgetary rules — and raised the prospect of renegotiating the pandemic recovery plan.

Elections were triggered by the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government last month, and are occurring against a backdrop of soaring inflation, a potential winter energy crisis and global uncertainty sparked by
the Ukraine war.

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