France calls back Italy ambassador

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Only a small number of candidates have so far been announced of the 79 required to stand in the May 2019 European elections.

Di Maio, head of the anti-establishment 5-Star movement, which is in a governing coalition with the far-right League, defended his meeting with the "yellow vests", and drew a distinction between Macron and the French people.

"It's necessary that the two historic protagonists of the process of integration don't split, but reconfirm their elements of unity", the presidents of the two groups wrote Macron and Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte.

Paris and Rome have been snarling at each other since a populist coalition took power in Italy a year ago, with budget spending and immigration the main bones of contention.

France's government spokesman said the recall of its ambassador to Italy is temporary, but sends an important signal to its historical ally not to meddle in internal French affairs.

"The opportunity will come on May 26 when finally the French people will be able to take back control of their future, destiny, (and) pride, which are poorly represented by a character like Macron", he said.

The big question is whether the spat will have any longer-term repercussions. A $10 billion rail project to link the two countries is under threat over Five Star opposition to the plan.

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France's response appeared to catch Italy by surprise. "The wind of change has crossed the Alps", Di Maio tweeted at the time.

"Snide remarks from Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini haven't stopped Italy falling into recession. we don't make snide remarks", Griveaux said. "This has not affected the feeling of friendship that ties our two countries and never will", he said.

In a letter to French daily Le Monde, Luigi Di Maio accused French governments on both the left and right of pursuing "ultraliberal" policies that have "increased citizens' insecurity and sharply reduced their spending power".

With the announcement of a third "yellow vest" list for the European elections, the movement seems to be divided. Referring to Italy's populist leaders, he criticized a "nationalist leprosy" eating away at Europe's unity and said European Union members should "behave better toward partners". But he acknowledged that differences were coming to the fore ahead of May's European Parliament elections.

Salvini says Macron is to blame for the protests.

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.

And Di Maio also denounced the French government for protecting the elite and the privileged, saying "a new Europe is being born of the "yellow vests", of movements, of direct democracy".

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