Row over Salvini's election doorbell antics in Italy

Italy's far-right politician Matteo Salvini speaks during a joint news conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, Hungary, in this May 2, 2019 file photo. — Reuters

ROME — Videos of Italian far-right politician Matteo Salvini buzzing the intercoms of immigrant residents to ask if they deal drugs have gone viral, spurring wide condemnation and a diplomatic row.

Salvini, the former interior minister and leader of the anti-immigrant League, opted for the shock tactic during a visit to Bologna on Tuesday to shore up the vote ahead of weekend regional elections.

In the widely-circulated videos, Salvini — surrounded by a phalanx of cameras and a neighborhood resident — rings an apartment building buzzer. When a person answers, Salvini says he's heard that drugs are sold there and asks whether or not it's true.

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

On Thursday, Tunisia's 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 is no stranger to provocation and drug dealing is a common refrain in his highly publicized 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 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 had 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 on Wednesday, 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 party is hoping to score an historic upset in Sunday's elections in the Emilia Romagna region, historically dominated by the left where the right has recently made inroads.

Polls say the race is roughly tied with the Democratic Party (PD).

The League hopes that victory in Emilia Romagna will bring about the collapse of the coalition government between the center-left PD and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, and spur a new general election. — AFP