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Italians rally against far-right surge in north ahead of crucial regional vote

Tens of thousands of Italians have rallied in the northern city of Bologna to protest a far-right surge and, more specifically, the populism of far-right leader Matteo Salvini ahead of a crucial regional vote that could shake up the country’s entire political stage.

According to Press TV, an estimated 40,000 people joined Sunday’s rally in Bologna — the main city in the  northern Emilia-Romagna region — in response to a call by the new ‘Sardines’ grassroots movement, which emerged in November 2019 to counter the anti-immigration and anti-Europe policies of Salvini’s League Party.

The protesters were carrying blue balloons and multi-colored versions of the movement’s now-familiar sardine symbol.

Supporters of the ‘Sardines’ are not allowed to have signs and banners with political slogans or support of specific political parties at the rallies of the movement, which got its name by packing squares throughout the region and beyond with supporters.

The mass rally was held as Salvini — a deputy premier and interior minister in the former coalition government — along with his rightist allies is campaigning hard for a far-right win in the January 26 elections in left-leaning Emilia-Romagna.

An election win for Salvini and his allies could result in the collapse of the government formed by the center-left Democrat Party, which has held power in the northern region for over 70 years. Such an outcome would consequently lead to national legislative elections sought by Salvini.

“We are here to say that an alternative exists,” one of the ‘Sardines’ movement’s founders, 32-year-old Mattia Santori, told journalists.

“We fill the squares. We bring another way of doing politics. We re-launch very important cultural and social themes. We re-launch themes such as anti-fascism and anti-racism, themes that had gone out of fashion, and we do it in a new way and that’s probably what people like,” said Santori.

In an interview with the Repubblica newspaper on Sunday, Santori said, “This (regional election) will probably be a turning point for Italian politics.”

“We have shown that we can do politics without low blows,” he said. “We have already defeated populism. Salvini goes to the bars and does selfies. We fill up the squares.”

The movement has held similar demonstrations in various cities across the country such as Florence, Rimini, Milan and Modena besides Bologna.