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France recalls ambassador to Italy as diplomatic row deepens

France recalls ambassador to Italy as diplomatic row deepens

Addressing the protests in France earlier in January, leader of the anti-establishment party Five Star Movement (M5S) and Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio supported the "yellow vests" movement, harshly criticising French President Emmanuel Macron.

"To me that meeting was not a provocation against the current French government, but instead an important meeting with a political force with whom we share quite a lot, including the need for direct democracy to give more power to citizens", Di Maio wrote on Facebook.

The French government blamed the move on "baseless verbal attacks" from Italy's leaders, which it said were "unprecedented" since the end of the second world war.

Last month, Paris summoned Italy's ambassador to protest Di Maio's accusation that France was encouraging immigration to Europe "because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonizing dozens of African countries".

"The relationship between Italy and France goes back to antiquity, the ties are cultural and economic and can not be put into doubt", Conte told reporters in Beirut.

Macron has blasted the Italian government's "cynicism and irresponsibility" after it began preventing rescue boats with migrants and refugees on board from docking at Italian ports and compared the rise of far-right nationalism to leprosy. "In the political campaign our friend is Germany and so we had to do the campaign against France", he said, prompting laughter from Merkel.

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He posted a picture of himself on Twitter with a yellow-vest leader and with Ingrid Levavasseur, who is heading a yellow-vest (gilets jaunes) list for elections to the European Parliament in May.

The statement continued: "Having disagreements is one thing, but manipulating the relationship for electoral aims is another".

The two countries have also clashed over government spending, after Italy fell foul of European Union budget rules.

"Mr Di Maio, who holds government responsibilities, must take care not to undermine, through his repeated interferences, our bilateral relations, in the interest of both France and Italy".

Di Maio had already drawn Paris's ire after he accused France of fuelling the migrant influx to Europe by continuing to "colonise" Africa.

"I have not spoken to (French President Emmanuel) Macron, but I wish to say that the relationship between Italy and France, both cultural and economic, is a deep-rooted one and therefore it can not be put into question by contingencies", Conte said in response to questions from reporters about the recall of the French ambassador.