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France sends ambassador back to Italy following spat

By The News · 15 of February 2019 18:18:14
Five star movement leader and deputy Premier Luigi di Maio talks during a press conference, in Rome, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. France is sending its ambassador Christian Masset back to Italy Friday following the biggest diplomatic dispute between the two countries since World War II after Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio met with French yellow vest activists seeking to run for the European Parliament, causing France to recall the ambassador to protest perceived Italian meddling in French domestic politics. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini), No available, Five star movement leader and deputy Premier Luigi di Maio talks during a press conference, in Rome, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. France is sending its ambassador Christian Masset back to Italy Friday following the biggest diplomatic dispute between the two countries since World War II after Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio met with French yellow vest activists seeking to run for the European Parliament, causing France to recall the ambassador to protest perceived Italian meddling in French domestic politics. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

PARIS (AP) — France sent its ambassador back to Italy on Friday following the biggest diplomatic dispute between the two countries since World War II.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella received the returning French ambassador, the presidential Quirinal Palace in Rome said.

Ambassador Christian Masset gave him a letter from Macron inviting Mattarella to France.

“President Mattarella, in expressing thanks, has cordially accepted the invitation,” the palace said in a statement.

France recalled Masset last week to protest perceived Italian meddling in French domestic politics, after Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio met with French yellow vest activists seeking to run for the European Parliament.

In response to France’s decision, Di Maio said he hopes to meet with Masset.

“I’m happy the French ambassador is coming back to Italy,” Di Maio told reporters. “I’ll ask him for a meeting. In the meanwhile, welcome back.”

Di Maio heads the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, the senior party in the Italian coalition government. He has been courting support from fellow populists elsewhere in the European Union with the aim of creating a like-minded faction in the European Parliament after elections this spring.

Referring to the yellow vest protesters, he appeared to want to tamp down speculation the 5-Stars were making alliances with violent elements in the French movement.

“We don’t have any intention of dialoguing with that mind-set (of the movement) that speaks of armed struggle or civil war,” Di Maio said. He was speaking to reporters in Rome while laying out the 5-Stars’ campaign manifesto for the European elections, which he says is supported by political forces in Croatia, Poland, Finland and Greece.

“After years of austerity, now it’s time to have Italian, Polish, Croatian, Greek, Finnish citizens be better off,” he said.

On Tuesday, Macron called Mattarella to discuss the removal of Masset. At the time, the Quirinal Palace said during their conversation that the two presidents “re-affirmed the importance, for each of the two countries, of the French-Italian relationship, which nourishes itself with historic, economic, cultural and exceptional human ties.”

Both men further noted that the two countries “have a special responsibility to work in concert for the defense and relaunching of the European Union,” the Italian presidential office said.

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Frances D’Emilio in Rome contributed to this story.