Italy’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, provoked a political outcry on Monday after an aide posted a photo of him clutching a machine gun on Facebook ahead of the European elections.
Luca Morisi, one of Salvini’s closest advisors, posted the photo of the League party leader with the caption: “You have noticed how they do everything to throw mud at the League? The Europeans (elections) are approaching….But we are armed and equipped with helmets!”
Mr Salvini, the country’s hardline interior minister, has faced criticism in recent months for repeatedly wearing police and firefighters’ uniforms to reinforce his tough guy image. Nicknamed “Il Capitano” by his followers, he also posed with a military-grade sniper rifle at a police convention in October.
The latest photo of the minister brandishing a machine gun was criticised by his political opponents and commentators who immediately called for Mr Morisi’s resignation.
Nicola Fratoianni, an MP who heads the left-wing La Sinistra party, accused the minister of posting an image that promoted violence.
“An advisor to the interior minister cannot be allowed to write on social media ‘We are armed’,” Mr Fratoianni said. “He launched a threatening, dangerous message instigating possible future violence.
Pina Picierno, a European MEP from the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) said: “There is no war under way against the League, nor the need for it to arm itself with machine guns and helmets. Morisi should arm himself with a brain instead of a helmet.”
Top-selling author and commentator Roberto Saviano said the advisor, dubbed the minister’s ‘spin doctor’, should be sacked for posting a threatening image showing Salvini armed with men in uniform behind him.
“The message is telling and chilling,” Mr Saviano wrote on his Facebook page.
“Luca Morisi is a dangerous person, but the one who employs him should deal with this danger.”
Mr Salvini shrugged off the attacks. “They are arguments based on nothing. This morning I posted photos of three soft toys that I took to my daughter and they bickered about the soft toys. If the Left attacks photos for the sake of arguing, you can say we are working well.”
According to the latest poll published by the national daily, Corriere Della Sera, at the weekend, Mr Salvini’s League now commands a hefty 36.9 percent of the vote, more than double its voting share at last year’s national elections.
The party is also well ahead of its coalition partner, the Five Star Movement which has 22.3 percent and the centre-left Democratic Party which is languishing at 18.7 percent of the vote.
Mr Salvini has rejected speculation that he may push for early elections in Italy after the European elections at the end of May.