Italy's far-right party urges blanket closure of Muslim prayer centers

Italy's far-right party urges blanket closure of Muslim prayer centers

Italy's far-right Northern League Party - part of former premier Silvio Berlusconi's poll-leading conservative bloc - has pledged mass closures of Muslim prayer sites if it enters the government following general elections on March 4.

The national debate on immigration and Islam in Italy has reached a fever pitch in recent days after a xenophobic attack on Saturday in the central Italian town of Macerata left six African migrants injured.

The attack, carried out by a neo-Nazi sympathizer affiliated with the League, appeared to be an act of revenge for a murder initially blamed on an alleged drug dealer from Nigeria.

"With the League in government, we will close all illegal Islamic centers, and those that do not fulfill the key principles of transparency, legality, openness and acceptance of our values, starting from the respect of women," the party said late Tuesday.

The statement initially called for a ban on "all" Muslim centers but was later toned down. It was issued ahead of a Thursday visit by League leader Matteo Salvini to Umbertide, a town in Umbria where a mosque is under construction.

"Salvini is right: let's close illegal Muslim sites," Giorgio Gori of the center-left Democratic Party responded on Wednesday. "But first, let us respect the Constitution, and let us allow the construction of legal prayer sites, also for Muslims."

In 2016, then-interior minister Angelino Alfano told parliament that Italy had 1,205 Muslim prayer sites or cultural centers, with a particularly high concentration in the north, where the League is historically based.

In Sesto San Giovanni, a Milan suburb and former left-wing bastion, a League-backed right-wing administration was elected last year and vetoed the construction of what would have been Italy's largest mosque.

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