ANCONA, Italy (AP) — Leading her first election campaign rally, Italian far-right leader Giorgia Meloni on Tuesday slammed the European Union energy’s strategy, saying families and businesses are being “brought to their knees” by soaring prices.
Meloni, who has been buoyed for weeks by opinion polls showing her leading in her quest to become Italy's first female premier and its first far-right government leader, used the evening pep rally in Ancona, an Adriatic port city, to hammer away at long-running themes for her Brothers of Italy party, whose symbol borrows an icon from a neo-fascist party.
She told the crowd of about 1,000 people in a town square there was a reason why she chose Ancona in Italy's east-central Marche region for her inaugural rally for Sept. 25 balloting for Parliament.
“I'm starting in Ancona not by chance,'' Meloni said, saying she did it so she can remind voters that “we have a class of leaders ready to govern the country.”
Introducing Meloni was Marche's governor, Francesco Acquaroli, elected in 2020 on the Brothers of Italy ticket, one of several local or regional elections where her party has gained popularity in the last years, sometimes at the expense of her right-wing ally, anti-migrant League leader Matteo Salvini.
Meloni's main rival in opinion polls in the last several weeks is Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta , a former center-left premier. But while Meloni has center-right campaign alliances with both Salvini and with former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, Letta and his party have failed to forge similarly solid and broad alliances for the center-left.
Salvini, Berlusconi and another populist leader, Giuseppe Conte, the former premier who leads the 5-Star Movement, sunk the national unity government of Premier Mario Draghi last month when they refused to back him in a confidence vote.
Often shouting, Meloni proclaimed that the political right is “ready to give answers to the country that the left hasn't been able to do” for years.
She contended that the European Union had failed to craft policies that would ensure available, affordable energy supplies. Sky-high energy prices “have forced businesses and families down to their knees," Meloni said.
While Salvini and Berlusconi in their campaigns have called for reactivating Italy's long-shuttered nuclear power plants, Meloni at the rally said Italy should exploit gas resources in the Adriatic Sea and not just look to buy gas from countries like Algeria, as Draghi has done, to wean Italians from supplies from Russia, given that country's war against Ukraine .
Meloni has called for naval blockades in the Mediterranean to foil migrant smugglers from launching unseaworthy vessels from Libya toward Italy's shores. Noting most migrants who reach Italy that way aren't eligible for asylum, Meloni said they only wind up being exploited to work for low wages and in poor conditions by profit-hungry corporations — employment conditions “that Italians don't want.”
At other public appearances, Meloni has slammed what she calls the LGBTQ lobby, but she made no mention of that stance at the rally. Still, her past words have alarmed rights advocates in Italy.
Matteo Marchegiani, leader of the Ancona chapter of Arcigay, a nationwide advocacy organization, told The Associated Press that he was very worried Meloni and her party could win a majority. Such an election victory "could lead to the cancellation of the few civil rights that the LGBTQ community as a civil rights movement has obtained after decades of work and great effort” in Italy, he said.
Italy doesn't permit same-sex marriage. Right-wing and pro-Vatican politicians in recent years have thwarted passage of legislation, promoted by the Democrats, for hate crime protection for the LGBTQ community.
A few protesters rallied near the square where Meloni spoke, with one of them holding a sign contending the leader foments hate.
Frances D'Emilio reported from Rome.