Pope warns against nationalism as Italy faces power struggle

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Pope Francis warned Friday against European nationalism, raising the “frightening” spectre of Hitler in comments published a day after Italy’s far-right interior minister bid to strengthen his hold on government.

Matteo Salvini, whose rallying cry is “Italians first”, pulled his support from the coalition government Thursday and called for snap elections.

He tried to create a “sovereignist” front to challenge the powers of European Union authorities ahead of EU elections earlier this year.

The pope warned in an interview published Friday in newspaper La Stampa that “sovereignism reveals an attitude toward isolation”.

He compared the current rise of nationalism in Europe to the 1930s when the dictator Adolf Hitler came to power in Nazi Germany.

“I am concerned because we hear speeches that resemble those of Hitler in 1934. ‘Us first, We… We… ‘ These are frightening thoughts,” the pope was quoted as saying.

The 82-year-old pope lived through years of right-wing dictatorship in his native Argentina.

Ahead of the EU elections in May, Salvini reached out in his bid for a “sovereignist” alliance to France’s far-right party leader Marine Le Pen and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Far-right parties performed strongly in those polls.

“Sovereignty must be defended, but relations with other countries, with the European community must also be protected and promoted,” the pope said.

He did not mention Salvini or any other specific cases in Europe.

“Sovereignism is an exaggeration that always ends badly: it leads to war”.

Salvini called on Thursday for a snap election in Italy, after falling out with the populist M5S party, his partners in the current coalition government.

“I ask Italians if they want to give me full powers,” he told journalists at a political rally.

Opinion polls indicate that Salvini and his popular far-right League party would comfortably win an election in the coming months.

They indicate he could govern with the support of the smaller, far-right Brothers of Italy party.

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