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Punch-up in Italy’s parliament sparks furore

By AFP - Jun 14,2024 - Last updated at Jun 14,2024

File photo of the Palazzo Montecitorio, seat of the Italian Chamber of Deputies (AFP photo)

ROME — A brawl in the Italian parliament over the far-right government’s plans to grant regions more autonomy has triggered uproar, with some comparing the punch-up to the days of fascism.

The fight broke out on Wednesday evening after Five Star Movement (MS5) Deputy Leonardo Donno tried to tie an Italian flag around the neck of regional affairs minister Roberto Calderoli of the pro-autonomy Northern League.

Donno’s stunt was intended to denounce plans to grant more autonomy from Rome to those regions that want it. Critics argue that it undermines Italy’s unity.

In response, Calderoli’s fellow League deputies left their benches en masse to mob Donno, and the debate descended into a free-for-all involving some 20 men.

Donno, injured in the scuffles, had to be evacuated in a wheelchair before being sent to hospital.

The brawl provoked a torrent of reactions from political leaders and made the front pages of the Italian newspapers. Many criticised the example set by the elected representatives.

“The squadrist right is fighting in parliament,” the newspaper La Repubblica lamented, using a term used to describe the post-World War I paramilitary forces that went on to become fascist leader Benito Mussolini’s infamous Blackshirts.

Italy’s leading daily Corriere della Sera said the house had turned into a “boxing ring”.

Lawmakers from the League and the Brothers of Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s party, accused Donno of provoking the incident and even faking his injuries.

The M5S denounced a “serious and shameful attack” and called for immediate measures.

“Violence comes from the benches of the Meloni majority... Shame,” its leader, Giuseppe Conte, wrote on social media network X.

Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani acknowledged that lawmakers should hold themselves to a higher standard, telling Sky TG24 that politicians “have to set a completely different example“.

The chamber is not a boxing ring... it’s not fisticuffs that solve political problems.”

Critics say that the autonomy proposal will result in public services being cut back in the poorest regions.

The scenes in parliament are by no means unprecedented.

In 2021, deputies from the Brothers of Italy — which has post-fascist roots — mobbed the centre of chamber to interrupt a debate on the COVID-19 health pass.

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