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France recalls ambassador to Italy after yellow vest meeting

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

It said Italy's attacks were without precedent since World War II.

The final straw for Paris was a secret French trip on Tuesday by Mr Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement and deputy prime minister, to meet Christophe Chalençon, a yellow vest activist who wants the army to overthrow Mr Macron.

Tensions between Paris and Rome have escalated since June when the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and far-right League party came to power in Italy in a coalition government. "Having disagreements is one thing, but using the relationship for electoral purposes is quite another".

"President Macron has repeatedly lashed out against the Italian government for political reasons in view of the European elections", he said, referring to a European Parliament vote in May that is expected to see a surge among populist parties.

The at time violent "yellow vests" protests have been a political thorn in President Emmanuel Macron's side since November as support among the French electorate for his reform agenda has ebbed.

But he added that France should address three issues: its policy of returning migrants to Italy, occasional border checks at the frontier, and the case of some 15 Italian leftists who have had refuge in France for decades.

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

The two countries have also clashed over government spending, after Italy fell foul of European Union budget rules.

This week Di Maio met leaders of the gilets jaunes and said: "The wind of change has crossed the Alps".

"The most recent interferences constitute an additional and unacceptable provocation", the French foreign ministry said.

Salvini poured fuel on the fire last month as well, saying in a Facebook video that "I hope the French will be able to free themselves of a awful president".

In an interview Wednesday, Le Pen said Macron's attempts at national reconciliation will fail if the president fails to address the demands of yellow vests.

In an interesting development, it's now Salvini who rather than trying to outdo his rival is instead extending an olive branch to Macron: "We are ready and available with a constructive spirit to turn the page for the good of our people".

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