Italy voters shift sharply, reward Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni delivers an address overnight on Sept. 26, 2022 in Rome, after the country voted in a legislative election. (AFP)
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Updated 26 September 2022

Italy voters shift sharply, reward Giorgia Meloni’s far-right party

  • The formation of a ruling coalition could take weeks. If Meloni succeeds, she would be the first woman to hold the country’s premiership
  • Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, which has neo-fascist roots, has never held office but looks set to form Italy’s most far-right government

ROME: Italian voters rewarded Giorgia Meloni’s euroskeptic party with neo-fascist roots, propelling the country toward what likely would be its first far-right-led government since World War II, based on partial results Monday from the election for Parliament.
In a victory speech, far-right Italian leader Giorgia Meloni struck a moderate tone after projections based on votes counted from some two-thirds of polling stations showed her Brothers of Italy party ahead of other contenders in Sunday’s balloting.
“If we are called to govern this nation, we will do it for everyone, we will do it for all Italians and we will do it with the aim of uniting the people (of this country),” Meloni said at her party’s Rome headquarters.
“Italy chose us,” she said. “We will not betray (the country) as we never have.”
The formation of a ruling coalition, with the help of Meloni’s right-wing and center-right allies, could take weeks. If Meloni, 45, succeeds, she would be the first woman to hold the country’s premiership.
The mandate to try to form a government is given by Italy’s president after consultations with party leaders.

Meanwhile, former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, whose government collapsed two months ago, stays on in a caretaker role.
Differences among Meloni’s potential coalition partners could loom.
She has solidly backed the supplying of Ukraine with arms to defend itself against Russia’s invasion. In contrast, right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini, who before the war was a staunch admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has voiced concern that Western sanctions could end up hurting Italy’s economic interests more that punishing Russia’s.
Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, another long-time Putin admirer, has said that his inclusion in a center-right bloc’s coalition would guarantee that Italy stays firmly anchored in the European Union and one of its most reliable members.
With Italy’s households and businesses struggling with staggeringly high energy bills as winter approaches, Meloni has demurred from Salvini’s push to swell already-debt-laden Italy by tens of billions of euros for energy relief.
What kind of government the eurozone’s third-largest economy might be getting was being closely watched in Europe, given Meloni’s criticism of “Brussels bureaucrats” and her ties to other right-wing leaders. She recently defended Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban after the European Commission recommended suspending billions of euros in funding to Hungary over concerns about democratic backsliding and the possible mismanagement of EU money.
After opinion polls in the run-up to the vote indicated she would be headed to victory, Meloni started moderating her message of “God, homeland and family” in an apparent attempt to reassure the European Union and other international partners, worried about euro-skepticism.
“This is the time for being responsible,” Meloni said, appearing live on television and describing the situation for Italy and the European Union is “particularly complex.”

She promised more detailed comments later on Monday. In her campaign, she criticized European Union officials as being overly bureaucratic and vowing to protect Italy’s national interests if they clash with EU policies.
Projections based on votes counted from nearly two-thirds of the polling stations in Sunday’s balloting indicated Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party would win some 25.7 percent of the vote.
That compared to some 19.3 percent by the closest challenger, the center-left Democratic Party of former Premier Enrico Letta. Salvini’s League was projected to win 8.6 percent of the ballots, roughly half of what he garnered in the last 2018 election. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, appeared headed to win 8 percent.
Meloni’s meteoric rise in the European Union’s third-largest economy comes at a critical time, as much of the continent reels under soaring energy bills, a repercussion of the war in Ukraine, and the West’s resolve to stand united against Russian aggression is being tested. In the last election, in 2018, Meloni’s party took 4.4 percent.
Fellow euroskeptic politicians were among the first to celebrate. French politician Marine Le Pen’s party also hailed the result as a “lesson in humility” to the EU.
Santiago Abascal, the leader of Spain’s far-right Vox opposition party, tweeted that “millions of Europeans are placing their hopes in Italy.” Meloni “has shown the way for a proud and free Europe of sovereign nations that can cooperate on behalf of everybody’s security and prosperity.”
Nearly 64 percent of eligible voters deserted the balloting, according to the Interior Ministry. That is far lower than the previous record for low turnout, 73 percent in 2018.
Italy has had three coalition governments since the last election — each led by someone who hadn’t run for office, and that appeared to have alienated many voters, pollsters had said.
Meloni’s party was forged from the legacy of a neo-fascist party formed shortly after the war by nostalgists of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
Italy’s complex electoral law rewards campaign alliance. Meloni was buoyed by joining campaign forces with Salvini and Berlusconi.
The Democrats went into the vote at a steep disadvantage since they failed to secure a similarly broad alliance with the left-leaning populists of the 5-Star-Movement, the largest party in the just-ended legislature.
Headed by former Premier Giuseppe Conte, the 5-Stars appeared headed to a third-place finish, with some 16 percent of the vote. Had they joined forces in a campaign agreement with the Democrats, their coalition would have roughly take the same percentage of Meloni’s alliance
The election Sunday came six months early after Draghi’s pandemic unity government, which enjoyed wide citizen popularity, collapsed in late July after the parties of Salvini, Berlusconi and Conte withheld support in a confidence vote.
Meloni kept her Brothers of Italy party in the opposition, refusing to join Draghi’s unity government or the two previous coalitions led by Conte.
 


Philippines’ largest prison holds mass burial for 70 inmates

Updated 57 min 6 sec ago

Philippines’ largest prison holds mass burial for 70 inmates

  • They were among 176 corpses found by police during an investigation into the death of an inmate
  • Bodies are normally held at accredited funeral homes for three months to give relatives time to retrieve them

MANILA: The bodies of 70 inmates from the Philippines’ largest prison were laid to rest Friday in a mass burial, weeks after their decomposing remains were discovered in a Manila funeral home.
They were among 176 corpses found by police during an investigation into the death of an inmate, who was accused of being involved in the killing of a journalist in early October.
Most of the deaths were due to “natural causes,” said Cecilia Villanueva, the Bureau of Corrections’ acting director for health and welfare services.
Among them was a Japanese national.
Villanueva said 127 of the 140 bodies buried so far were badly decomposed and could not be autopsied again.
The bodies began piling up in the funeral home in December 2021 after their families — most of them poor — did not claim them.
Villanueva blamed “constraints” for the failure of corrections staff to ensure the inmates were given timely burials.
Bodies are normally held at the accredited funeral home for three months to give relatives time to retrieve them.
Friday’s mass burial was the biggest ever by the Bureau of Corrections, Villanueva told reporters.
Minimum security inmates carried the 70 plywood coffins to their final resting place — cheap concrete tombs in a cemetery inside the prison complex.
The gruesome discovery at the funeral home was only the latest scandal to rock the troubled Bureau of Corrections, which runs the country’s overcrowded prison system.
Its chief Gerald Bantag is accused of ordering the killing of radio broadcaster Percival Mabasa, as well as Cristito Villamor Palana, an inmate who allegedly passed on the kill order to the gunman.
After Bantag was suspended from his job as director general, a huge pit was discovered next to his former official residence inside the prison complex.
Bantag claims it was for scuba diving, not an escape tunnel for inmates.
Among the remaining bodies still at the funeral home, eight would be re-examined by Raquel Fortun, one of the country’s two forensic pathologists.
Villanueva said an average of one to two prisoners died every day inside New Bilibid Prison, where about 29,000 inmates are held in a facility designed for 6,435.
There were only five doctors to treat the prisoners, but the Bureau of Corrections was trying to hire more.
“We are doing everything we can, we try to provide health care, just as health care is provided to the public, but there are so many constraints,” Villanueva said.


Finnish PM warns Russian win would empower aggressors

Updated 02 December 2022

Finnish PM warns Russian win would empower aggressors

  • First-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to Australia and New Zealand
  • ’Make no mistake, if Russia wins its terrible gamble, it will not be the only one to feel empowered’

CANBERRA: Finland’s Prime Minister Sanna Marin warned an Australian audience Friday that a Russian victory over Ukraine would empower other aggressors and urged democracies against forming “critical dependencies” on authoritarian states such as China.
Marin was speaking in Sydney at the end of the first-ever visit by a Finnish prime minister to Australia and New Zealand. Australia’s pursuit of a free trade deal with the European Union was on the agenda.
She used a speech to urge democracies to ramp up sanctions against Russia.
“Make no mistake, if Russia wins its terrible gamble, it will not be the only one to feel empowered,” Marin told the Lowy Institute international policy think tank.
“Others will also be tempted by the same dark agenda,” she added.
A free trade agreement being finalized between the European Union, which includes Finland, and Australia was an opportunity to develop resilient supply chains, she said.
“We have become far too dependent on cooperation with regimes that do not share our common values,” Marin said, using Finland’s reliance on Russian energy as an example.
“Our dependencies are becoming our weaknesses faster and in more important areas of our societies than we would like to happen,” she added.
She described trade with China as a “reality.”
“We all have worries when it comes to China and we must make sure that we don’t have that kind of critical dependencies when it comes to China,” Marin said.
“We cannot be dependent, for example, on microchips or semiconductors or any kind of critical technologies when it comes to authoritarian countries. Because if those trading routes would be cut suddenly, then we would be in trouble,” she added.
Marin later met Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at his official Sydney residence. The pair released a joint statement saying their talks “underlined the need to work together in strengthening their resilience as open and democratic societies and in fostering sustainable development.”
They prime ministers “agreed that managing complex supply chains, energy sources and investing in trustworthy critical and emerging technologies was needed to promote economic, political, social and environmental stability as well as human rights,” the statement said.
Australia, which is the most generous donor to Ukraine’s war effort outside NATO, and Finland, a country that is soon to become a NATO member and shares a 1,300-kilometer border with Russia, demanded in the statement Moscow immediately withdraw its forces from Ukraine.


Up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russian invasion: Zelensky aide

Updated 02 December 2022

Up to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers killed since Russian invasion: Zelensky aide

  • 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting

KYIV: As many as 13,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed since Russia’s invasion in February, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky has said.
“We have official estimates from the General Staff... And they range from 10,000 ... to 13,000 dead,” Mykhailo Podolyak told Ukraine’s Channel 24 on Thursday.
Zelensky would make the official data public “when the right moment comes,” he added.
In June, as Russian forces battled to take full control of the easternmost Lugansk region, Zelensky said Ukraine was losing “60 to 100 soldiers per day, killed in action, and around 500 people wounded in action.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in September said 5,937 Russian troops had been killed in the nearly seven months of fighting to that point.
Both sides are suspected of minimizing their losses to avoid damaging the morale of their troops.
Top US general Mark Milley last month said more than 100,000 Russian military personnel have been killed or wounded in Ukraine, with Kyiv’s forces likely suffering similar casualties.
Those figures — which could not be independently confirmed — are the most precise to date from the US government.
Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have been killed in the worst fighting in Europe in decades.


US, South Korea and Japan impose fresh sanctions on North Korea

Updated 02 December 2022

US, South Korea and Japan impose fresh sanctions on North Korea

  • US Treasury Department threatened sanctions against anyone dealing with those directly involved in weapons development
  • Washington’s action blocks assets of three North Korean officials in the US

WASHINGTON: The United States, Japan and South Korea have imposed fresh sanctions on North Korean individuals and entities in response to Pyongyang’s recent slew of missile tests.
Washington’s action, announced Thursday, blocks any assets of three North Korean officials in the United States, a largely symbolic step against an isolated country that has defied international pressure over its weapons programs.
The US Treasury Department also threatened sanctions against anyone who conducts transactions with Jon Il Ho, Yu Jin and Kim Su Gil, who were identified as directly involved in weapons development.
The recent North Korean missile launches, including the test of an intercontinental ballistic missile with the range to hit the US mainland, “pose grave security risks to the region and entire world,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
The sanctions “underscore our sustained resolve to promote accountability in response to Pyongyang’s pace, scale and scope of ballistic missile launches.”
Blinken added that the action was taken in coordination with US allies South Korea and Japan, and noted that the European Union issued similar designations of the three in April.
Tokyo and Seoul on Friday also announced new sanctions.
South Korea said it would target eight individuals, including a Taiwanese and a Singaporean national.
They have “contributed to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and evasion of (pre-existing) sanctions,” the South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement.
All are already subject to US sanctions, the ministry added, and South Korea’s new restrictions are expected to “alert the domestic and international community of the risks of transactions with these entities.”
And Japan said that in response to Pyongyang’s “provocative acts,” it was freezing the assets of three North Korean groups — Korea Haegumgang Trading Corp, Korea Namgang Trading Corp. and Lazarus Group — and one person, Kim Su Il.
The United States has voiced frustration that China, North Korea’s closest ally, and Russia have blocked efforts at the UN Security Council to impose tougher sanctions.

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SpaceX gets US approval to deploy up to 7,500 satellites

Updated 02 December 2022

SpaceX gets US approval to deploy up to 7,500 satellites

WASHINGTON: The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said on Thursday it approved SpaceX’s bid to deploy up to 7,500 satellites, but put on hold some other decisions.
SpaceX’s Starlink, a fast-growing network of more than 3,500 satellites in low-Earth orbit, has tens of thousands of users in the United States so far, with consumers paying at least $599 for a user terminal and $110 a month for service. The FCC in 2018 approved SpaceX plans to deploy up to 4,425 first-generation satellites.
SpaceX has sought approval to operate a network of 29,988 satellites, to be known as its “second-generation” or Gen2 Starlink constellation to beam Internet to areas with little or no Internet access.
“Our action will allow SpaceX to begin deployment of Gen2 Starlink, which will bring next generation satellite broadband to Americans nationwide,” the FCC said in its approval order, adding it “will enable worldwide satellite broadband service, helping to close the digital divide on a global scale.”
The FCC said its decision “will protect other satellite and terrestrial operators from harmful interference and maintain a safe space environment” and protect “spectrum and orbital resources for future use.”
In August, a US appeals court upheld the 2021 decision of the FCC to approve a SpaceX plan to deploy some Starlink satellites at a lower Earth orbit than planned as part of its push to offer space-based broadband Internet.
In September, SpaceX challenged the FCC decision to deny it $885.5 million in rural broadband subsidies. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in August Starlink’s technology “has real promise” but that it could not meet the program’s requirements, citing data that showed a steady decline in speeds over the past year and casting the service’s price as too steep for consumers.