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Europe's far-right vows hard line on immigration, but cracks emerge elsewhere

FILE PHOTO: Italian Deputy PM Salvini attends news conference in Rome

By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) - European far-right parties met in Italy on Saturday vowing to curb immigration to the continent and to oppose a second five-year term for European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The parties gathered in Rome, galvanised by polls suggesting nationalist and far right parties are likely to make strong gains in elections to the European Parliament in June.

But beyond agreement on toughening immigration rules, faultlines have become apparent in Europe's far-right camp.

The meeting of the Identity and Democracy (ID) group included delegations from Italy's League, France's Rassemblement National (RN), Austria's Freedom Party (FPO), Portugal's Chega and Belgium's Vlaams Belang.

"A country that does not defend its borders, a European Union .... that does not defend its borders commits murder against its people," said Italy's League leader Matteo Salvini.

Salvini is deputy prime minister in Giorgia Meloni's government but has failed to include her in the ID group.

The ID group is now the sixth-largest in the EU assembly, but current polling data place it in fourth position. Meloni's Brothers of Italy party is part of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR).

While the ECR is firmly on the Ukrainian side in its fight against Russia, ambiguities lie within the ID's ranks.

Salvini, who in the past has been a staunch admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said "warmongers" like French President Emmanuel Macron were a problem for Europe, after Paris opened the door to European nations sending troops to Ukraine.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who addressed the rally via video link, taunted Meloni suggesting she would support EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for a second mandate.

"Giorgia ... will you support a second von der Leyen term or not? I believe so. And so you will contribute to worsening the policies that the people of Europe are suffering from so much," she said, noting her ally Salvini would oppose this.

ID held a similar meeting in Florence in December, but this time the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, one of its key members which has been hit by racism allegations at home, was not invited.

Some senior League figures, the governors of the wealthy northern regions, also did not show up, underscoring discontent inside a party which is now polling below 9% after hitting a record 34% at the 2019 EU elections.

(Reporting by Angelo Amante and Giulio Piovaccari; editing by Christina Fincher)