Anti-migrant leader pushes to win national power in Italy

The leader of an Italian party that has promoted anti-migrant policies hopes to capitalize on resentment of immigrants in Europe, win national elections in the country and have his government issue one-way tickets home to refugees. 

Matteo Salvini wants to propel his anti-migrant Northern League, which was founded in 1991 as a regional party in Italy's affluent north, to its first premiership in the national election set for early 2018.

To do so, Salvini needs to build support in the south, an underdeveloped area of Italy the League has long denigrated as living off government funds.

Many of the thousands of people who turned out for his Rome rally did come from southern Italy. One of them was Adriana Domeniconi, who traveled by bus from Matera in the "instep" of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula.

"We're no longer about north vs. south, but against those invading our country," she said, reports the Associated Press.

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Domeniconi was referring to the hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers and economic migrants that have received shelter in Italy after being rescued at sea from traffickers' boats setting out from the Libyan coast.

Opinion surveys have found that many Italians blame the newcomers for crime.

Northern League party leader Matteo Salvini delivers a speech during a demonstration against the Ius Soli law granting citizenship to immigrants' children in Rome, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017. Opposition leaders accuse the Democrat-led government of being too accommodating toward migrants, who have arrived by the hundreds of thousands in the last few years after being rescued at sea from smugglers' boats that left the lawless shores of Libya. (Angelo Carconi/ANSA via AP)

Northern League party leader Matteo Salvini delivers a speech during a demonstration against the Ius Soli law granting citizenship to immigrants' children in Rome, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017.  (ANSA via AP)

"The Salvini government will have the (nation's) doors wide open for women and children who are fleeing war, but not for those bringing war to our home," Salvini told the rally, according to the Associated Press. For the latter, "we need one-way tickets to send them back."

Currently, children born in Italy to migrants with long-term residence permits have to wait until they reach age 18 to seek Italian citizenship. The proposed law would make children as young as 12 who are born in Italy, as well as those arriving as youngsters, eligible to request citizenship after five years of schooling in Italy.

Saying that citizenship "isn't an electoral gift," Salvini told the approving crowd that the legislation "won't happen thanks to the League and you."

The Northern League is planning to run in alliance with the center-right Forza Italia party of former three-time premier Silvio Berlusconi and the tiny right-wing Brothers of Italy party.

Berlusconi considers himself Italy's center-right leader and hasn't voiced support for a Salvini premiership.

Opinion polls published last week indicated Berlusconi's party had about a two-point advantage over the Northern League.\

Salvini at the rally heaped praise on U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the former for tax reform and fighting illegal immigration and the latter for "defending values and national borders."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.