With Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma playing in the background and hands clasped together in prayer, Matteo Salvini walked onto a stage in Rome to a long applause from a crowd of around 80,000.
It was 8 December, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a day when the Italian capital is usually packed with people flocking to see the pope making his annual pilgrimage to the Spanish steps. But down the road at the Piazza del Popolo, those who had travelled far and wide to listen to Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and leader of the League, the far-right party that came to power in early June in coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, far outnumbered those awaiting the pope.
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