Italy populist leaders back France 'yellow vest' protests

by Charles ONIANS
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Italy's deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio backed France's 'yellow jacket' movement in a post on the blog of his party, the Five Star Movement

The two leaders of Italy's ruling populist coalition on Monday threw their support behind the "yellow vest" protesters roiling neighbouring France.

"Yellow vests, do not weaken!" Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, who heads the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), wrote on his party's blog.

He denounced the French government for protecting the elite and the privileged, saying "a new Europe is being born. Of the 'yellow vests', of movements, of direct democracy" ahead of European parliamentary elections in May.

Matteo Salvini, his counterpart from the far-right, the anti-immigrant League, also backed the "yellow vest" protesters.

"I give all possible support to the French who are, in an educated and respectful way, letting a president who isn't acting in the interests of the French people know that the sooner he goes home, the better," Salvini told journalists in Rome, while condemning the violence.

On Monday, Di Maio offered French protesters the use of their so-called Rousseau platform to improve organisation and "draw up an electoral programme".

"This system (Rousseau) is made for a horizontal and spontaneous movement such as yours and we would be happy if you want to use it," Di Maio wrote.

M5S has vaunted direct democracy since it began in 2009.

Through its Rousseau internet portal, it gathers the votes of members online to decide its policies, draft legislation and candidates.

The platform is presented by the party as a reflection of its unique commitment to grassroots democracy and a new politics.

But it has been criticised, notably by former members, for its lack of transparency and the leadership's tight control over its functioning.

The movement's successful candidate for Rome mayor in 2016, Virginia Raggi, was chosen by M5S followers on Rousseau from among several previously unknown candidates.

"Like other governments, the French one thinks mainly about representing the interests of the elites, those who live from privileges, no longer those of the people," Di Maio wrote.

French President Emmanuel "Macron's government is not up to expectations and some policies are de facto dangerous, not just for the French, but for Europe".

"In Italy, we have inverted this trend," Di Maio wrote, calling on French protesters to do likewise.

Around 50,000 "yellow vest" protesters took to the streets again on Saturday in cities around France to denounce Macron's centrist policies.

While the numbers have dwindled since the earliest protests, a smaller but increasingly radical core of protesters remain determined to push on.

The demonstrations have been frequently violent since they began in late November, particularly on December 1 when crowds ransacked a museum in the Arc de Triomphe and daubed graffiti on the famed monument.

Protesters have criticised the French media for their coverage, demonstrating outside their offices, while mock executions of Macron have also been a feature of some gatherings.

"Yellow vest" protests against fuel taxes began in rural and small-town France in late November, but then mushroomed into a wider revolt during December against the policies and governing style of 41-year-old Macron.

Italy's M5S-League coalition in June became the European Union's first populist-only government, taking over from the centre-left Democratic Party.

The ruling coalition has had numerous spats with Macron and with the European Commission in Brussels since coming to power, notably over its big-spending budget to apply populist measures.

Italy's deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio backed France's 'yellow jacket' movement in a post on the blog of his party, the Five Star Movement

Italy?s far-right Interior Minister backed the French 'yellow vest' protesters