Salvini's election doorbell antics outrage Tunisians

Tunisian Ambassador to Italy Moez Sinaoui said he was "concerned by the embarrassing conduct" of Salvini.
Sunday 26/01/2020
Leader of Italy's far-right League party Matteo Salvini speaks during a rally in Emilia-Romagna, in Maranello, Italy. (Reuters)
Electoral populism. Leader of Italy's far-right League party Matteo Salvini speaks during a rally in Emilia-Romagna, in Maranello, Italy. (Reuters)

ROME - Videos of Italian far-right politician Matteo Salvini buzzing the intercoms of immigrant residents to ask if they deal drugs went viral, spurring wide condemnation for bigotry and a diplomatic dispute with the Tunisian Embassy in Rome.

Salvini, the former interior minister and leader of the anti-immigrant League party, opted for the suspect tactic during a visit January 21 to Bologna to shore up the vote ahead of regional elections.

In the widely circulated videos, Salvini, surrounded by cameras, and a neighbourhood resident could be heard mentioning a Tunisian resident whom he accused of involvement in drug trafficking. Salvini rings an apartment building buzzer. When a person answered, Salvini said he'd heard that drugs are sold there and asked whether it's true.

After being hung up on, Salvini asks the crowd” "That was him? He's Tunisian?"

On January 23, Tunisian Ambassador to Italy Moez Sinaoui told Italian newswire AGI he was "concerned by the embarrassing conduct" of Salvini, calling it a "provocation with no respect for a private residence."

Salvini's actions provoked outrage on social media by Tunisians calling his attitude "racist."

Salvini is no stranger to provocation and drug dealing is a common refrain in his highly publicised media stunts. He called the government "drug dealers" when parliament approved the sale of a mild version of cannabis last year and often ventures into city plazas, vowing to chase away drug dealers.

In the video, Salvini buzzed the residence a second time, saying he wanted to "restore your family's good name because someone says that you and your son deal drugs."

Italian media reported that the son sought the assistance of a lawyer for possible legal action against Salvini.

"I'm not a drug dealer. I play football. In a few months I'm going to be a father," said the young man, in a video posted on La Repubblica, who said he was born in Italy to Tunisian parents. "Salvini better take that video off the web."

An NGO, the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, called Salvini's actions a "hateful election propaganda move" and pledged any legal assistance needed.

On Twitter, Salvini said he did not regret his actions.

"I did well to buzz. I don't regret it at all. I don't care if drug dealers are Italian or Tunisian. Drugs kill. Whoever picks the League, picks the fight against drugs," he wrote.

The far-right League is hoping to score an upset in elections in the Emilia Romagna region, historically dominated by the left but where the right has recently made inroads. Polls said the race is basically tied with the Democratic Party (PD).

The League hopes that victory in Emilia Romagna would collapse the coalition government between the centre-left PD and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and spur a new general election.

(Agence France-Presse)