France recalls Italy ambassador after worst verbal onslaught 'since the war'

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Italian leaders then met yellow vest protestors, hailing a "wind of change crossing the Alps".

Her remarks come after a series of meetings between Macron and opposition leaders on Wednesday.

Two of the most senior members of the European Parliament slammed Italy on Friday in an exclusive interview with Euronews. "In the political campaign our friend is Germany and so we had to do the campaign against France", he said, prompting laughter from Merkel.

February 2019: France recalls its ambassador to Italy, accusing Rome of "repeated accusations" and "unfounded attacks".

"This new provocation is not acceptable between neighboring countries and partners in the European Union", a foreign ministry spokesman said in a daily online briefing.

Last month Di Maio said France's "colonial" policies in Africa had "impoverished" the continent's people and driven them to flee for Europe.

But the main trigger for the crisis appeared to be Di Maio's meeting in a Paris suburb this week with members of the yellow vest movement seeking seats in the European Parliament.

"The meeting comes after Di Maio reached out to the Yellow Vests, writing on his blog in January, "Yellow Vests, do not weaken!"

Italy's two deputy prime ministers, Matteo Salvini of the right-wing League and Luigi Di Maio of the populist, anti-establishment Five-Star movement, have in recent months goaded Macron on a number of issues.

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Levavasseur is a top yellow vest candidate for the May elections.

"We don't want to fight with anyone".

"To have disagreements is one thing; to exploit the relationship for electoral purposes is another", the Foreign Ministry's statement said.

"In Libya, France has no interest in stabilising the situation, probably because it has oil interests that are opposed to those of Italy", Salvini told Italian TV.

During a visit to Egypt last month, Macron sought to shrug off the sparring, dismissing Salvini and Di Maio's comments as "insignificant" and adding that he dealt only with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Relations with Italy's new government got off to a bad start when Macron criticized the decision of Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to block a humanitarian ship from unloading migrants at an Italian port, while refusing to allow the ship to dock in France.

The insults of Macron do not affect me, they make me strong.

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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