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Italy's right-wing leader Salvini targets leftist region in key vote

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By Daniel Bellamy  with AP
Italy's right-wing leader Salvini targets leftist region in key vote
Copyright  LaPresse   -   Stefano Cavicchi/LaPresse

Italy's right-wing populist leader Matteo Salvini is trying to trigger a political earthquake this Sunday.

With the support of veteran Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi, Salvini is supporting League party candidate Lucia Borgonzoni, a political underdog, in Sunday's election in Emilia-Romagna region.

If the League win they will take control of a wealthy northern region that has been a left-wing stronghold since World War Two.

Emilia Romagna's incumbent governor Stefano Bonaccini is from the Democrat Party, which is a junior partner in Italy's coalition government.

While winning Emilia-Romagna would be heavy on symbolism, Salvini's real goal is to use a victory to destabilise the coalition and take power nationally.

But battling his hard-right anti-migrant policies are the supporters of the Sardines movement who rallied in their thousands in Ravenna on Friday night.

Their slogan is of "no insults, no violence, no flags," and they support "sustainable democracy".

Salvini prompted fresh outrage in recent days when he rang the intercom at the home of a 17-year-old Tunisian, accusing the teen of being a drug pusher. The teen is threatening to sue for defamation, while angry reactions have come from Tunisia.

In what is widely seen as a bid for populist voter sympathy, Salvini also instructed his party to vote in favour of lifting his immunity to face trial for not allowing a migrant ship to disembark in Italy last summer.

While a League victory cannot prompt the government to fall automatically, the Five-Star Movement-Democratic Party coalition that was put together to block Salvini's power grab in the summer remains shaky and could fall on any number of pretexts.

It has failed, for example, to come to decisions on a number of outstanding industrial issues - like how to save Alitalia, the future of a failing steel mill in the south and whether to revoke a lucrative highway management contract with a private firm following the 2018 fatal bridge collapse in Genoa.