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Verhofstadt challenges Italy's Salvini to debate ahead of EU elections

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By Alice Tidey
Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini on May 18, 2019.
Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini on May 18, 2019.   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo   -  

Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, currently running for the EU's top job for the liberal ALDE group, challenged Italian interior Minister Matteo Salvini to a debate on Monday accusing him of "being paid by Putin to destroy Europe."

"Just like you, your extreme right-wing friends, (France's Marine) Le Pen, (Austria's Heinz-Christian) Strache, (the UK's Nigel) Farage and (Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor) Orban are constantly plotting and paid by (Russian President Vladimir) Putin to destroy Europe," Verhofstadt said in a video posted on Twitter.

"Hereby I challenge you to a one-on-one debate, as people have the full right to know what devil's plan you have in mind.

"Tell me where you want to do it, in Brussels or in Italy. I will be there," he added.

Salvini and the representatives of nationalist parties from 11 EU countries, including Marine Le Pen who heads France's far-right Rassemblement National party, gathered for a rally in Milan on Saturday in a show of force ahead of the EU parliamentary elections held on May 23- 26.

Far-right and populist parties are expected to do well at the EU-wide ballot, potentially weakening the EU Parliament's main groups, including Verhofsdtad's centrist ALDE.