Rome (AFP) – Italy’s government vowed Sunday to defend far-right Northern League leader Matteo Salvini’s right to free speech after violent clashes marred his first rally in Naples, proud capital of the country’s poor south.
“Something very important happened yesterday which we have to reflect on,” Interior Minister Marco Minniti said after the violence between masked protesters and riot police erupted on the margins of an otherwise peaceful demonstration in the sprawling port city on Saturday.
“In a democracy it is fundamental that everyone has the right to speak and it is even more fundamental for those whose views are furthest away from our own,” Minniti said.
Minniti’s intervention came amid a row over whether Naples’s leftist mayor, Luigi de Magistris, had encouraged activists bent on preventing Salvini speaking.
Saturday’s violence came after a handful of demonstrators broke away from a protest march.
They began hurling stones, flares, smoke bombs and Molotov cocktails at the police, who replied with baton-and-shield charges and tear gas.