France recalls ambassador to Rome after Italian deputy PM met with ‘yellow vests’

France’s foreign ministry said Thursday it had recalled its ambassador to Rome for consultations after a series of “provocations” by leaders of Italy’s populist government.

“For several months France has been the subject of repeated accusations, unfounded attacks and outlandish claims,” the ministry said in a statement, calling them “unprecedented” since the end of World War II.

It came one day after the French foreign ministry denounced as “unacceptable” a meeting between Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio and France’s “yellow vest” anti-government protesters.

“This new provocation is unacceptable between neighbouring countries and partners at the heart of the European Union,” a ministry spokesman said in a statement a day after Mr Di Maio met the protesters on French soil.

“Mr Di Maio, who has governmental responsibilities, should ensure that he does not impair with its repeated interferences our bilateral relations, in the interest of both France and Italy,” the spokesman said.

Mr Di Maio, head of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), announced Tuesday he had met near Paris with yellow vest leader Christophe Chalencon and candidates on a yellow vest list for European Parliament elections in May, led by Ingrid Levavasseur.

He invited them and other yellow vests to a follow-up meeting in Rome, claiming on Twitter that “the wind of change has crossed the Alps.”

Tensions have flared between the two countries since the Five Star Movement and far-right League party came to power in a coalition in Italy last June.

Mr Di Maio had already drawn Paris’s ire after he accused France of fuelling the migrant influx to Europe by continuing to “colonise” Africa.

Mr Di Maio’s fellow deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, has lambasted President Emmanuel Macron directly by saying he is “close, with all my heart… to the French people, the millions of men and women who live in France under a terrible government and terrible president”.

The “yellow vest” protests against fuel taxes began in rural and small-town France in late November, before ballooning into a wider revolt against Mr Macron’s policies and governing style.

The French president is hoping to forge an alliance of pro-European centrists ahead of the bloc’s parliamentary vote, against a wave of populist movements in several European countries.

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