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Italy heads to the polls in unpredictable election



Polls have opened in Italy for a national election that is as hard to predict as it is important, with up to 10 million voters said still to be undecided.

In a fractured and polarised political landscape, Italians will choose from numerous political parties; some centrist, some anti-establishment, some extreme and with a new, untested electoral system.

The economy and immigration have dominated the campaign, and the likely consequence of the race to lead the Eurozone’s third largest economy is either a government formed of anti-establishment, anti-immigration parties or prolonged uncertainty with a hung parliament.

The characters vying for power include Luigi Di Maio, a 31-year-old novice who leads the anti-establishment Five Star Movement; Matteo Salvini, the controversial leader of the far-right League Party; Matteo Renzi, the centrist who quit as prime minster last year after losing a referendum; and the self-styled, controversial grandfather of Italian politics, Silvio Berlusconi.

Matteo Renzi fell from office a year ago after calling and losing a referendum David Cameron style
Centrist Matteo Renzi

The centre-left Democratic Party which has dominated Italian politics for the past five years with three different prime ministers is expected to perform badly despite leading the country back from the brink of economic disaster.

Italy is Europe’s fourth largest economy and the third largest in the Eurozone, and yet it is growing at a much slower pace than other European nations.

The country carries debt worth 135% of its GDP, representing 20% of the Eurozone total debt, and so its political direction and economic success matters right across the continent.

The ballot box decisions made by the young will be particularly important. A third of Italians under the age of 25 are unemployed. Apathy among the young is high with polls suggesting as many as 40% of young voters may abstain.

:: Berlusconi is back: The main players in Italy’s election

Mr Berlusconi, Italy’s longest serving prime minister and convicted fraudster, is attempting a remarkable comeback as the leader of the centre-right Forza Italia Party.

Silvio Berlusconi

Italians go to the polls

The 81-year-old’s conviction bars him from becoming leader himself, but he has cast himself as experienced elder statesman who can provide clarity and certainty for voters.

The sex and financial scandals which dominated his latter years of office seem to have been forgotten.

“Today the country needs to capitalise on his experience because there are no other leaders except him,” one voter told us.

“I think that his experience is a good thing for us,” another said.

Alberto Castelvecchi, a political analyst at Rome’s Luiss University, told Sky News: “Berlusconi comes out and he says ‘I will put you together, I am the leader for tenderness, and good sentiment and good feelings’, so he presented himself as Mr Feelgood in a moment when Italians were feeling very bad.”

However, his party is unlikely to win a majority on its own and so he is relying on a loose coalition with two far-right parties: Mr Salvini’s League Party and the radical Brothers of Italy led by Giorgia Meloni.

The League, with the motto “Italy First’, and the Brothers of Italy are both very eurosceptic and have hardline anti-immigration policies.

Mr Salvini, 44, has pledged to repatriate 100,000 illegal immigrants and has talked of “cleansing the streets”.

Matteo Salvini
Matteo Salvini leads the far-right League Party

As a frontier EU country, Italy has seen a huge influx of migrants from countries across Africa with 630,000 arriving since 2014.

Although the perception of a migration problem may be greater than the reality (the country has among the lowest share of immigrants across the EU), asylum processing has been poor as has the system to turn back failed asylum seekers.

:: Sky Views: Italy could be Britain’s most influential ally during Brexit

All three parties in the right-wing coalition have proposed a single flat rate of income tax and pledged to introduce a parallel currency for domestic use, retaining the Euro only for international trade.

Support for the single currency in Italy is the lowest in the Eurozone.

Campaigning against them, the Five Star movement, founded by comedian Beppe Grillo and now led by 31-year-old Mr Di Maio, is anti-establishment and known more for what it rejects than what it stands for.

Yet for voters fed up with what they see as the stagnation of establishment politics, it provides an attractive alternative.

The movement’s rejection of the establishment makes it hard for it to propose coalitions. It is polling well on its own but is unlikely to get the 40% needed for a majority of seats, making a coalition tempting.

It has proposed an unconditional basic income for all of 780 euros, early retirement, a reduction of taxes and a raise in the tax threshold – populist policies which may appeal but will make reducing the country’s debt even harder.

Speaking at his last rally in Rome, Mr Di Maio told supporters: “People think voting on Sunday won’t make any difference. But in every seat in this country the difference is made by you. That’s not a sentimental point – it’s mathematical… we are one step from victory.”

Luigi Di Maio
Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio

He accused the centre-left incumbent government of not changing anything in years and promised that his party would deliver on all its promises as soon as it won office.

The centre-left Democratic Party, with candidate Mr Renzi, is expected to be the biggest loser in the vote.

Mr Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition could get the most votes but within it, Mr Salvini’s League may get more votes than Mr Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. In that scenario, Mr Salvini will claim he should be prime minister.

From the centrist perspective, and that of the European Union establishment in Brussels, a prime minister Salvini would be a bad outcome.

But the nightmare scenario for the establishment would be a coalition between Mr Salvini’s League and the Five Star Movement – unlikely but possible.

A centrist grand coalition between Mr Berlusconi’s party and Mr Renzi’s Democratic Party is seen as the least volatile option.

However a hung parliament with months of jockeying and uncertainty is the most likely prospect.

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Tokyo Olympics: Opening ceremony was ‘respectful, hopeful but sombre night’ | World News



Olympic opening ceremonies are something of a unique art form. Playing to a global audience but with the host nation wanting to make the night their own.

Japan chose sombre. It was a respectful, hopeful but above all sombre night. They didn’t want to show off when everyone has lived through such hardship – and while so many people continue to do so.

Their display using 1,824 flying drones combining like a swarm of giant worker bees to create a giant globe stood out.

Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the Olympic torch after lighting the Olympic cauldron
Naomi Osaka of Japan holds the Olympic torch after lighting the cauldron

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There were no Team GB fans at the 2021 summer olympic opening ceremony in Tokyo due to COVID-19 but Japan put on a stunning visual show regardless

So too Japanese tennis superstar Naomi Osaka who was given the honour of firing up the hydrogen-fuelled Olympic cauldron.

But it was their courteous bow towards the pain of the pandemic that defined the evening.

Video montages of empty cities during lockdowns, and athletes cobbling together training regimes in their back gardens – it all made for an understated opening ceremony.

Outside, the protests in the streets continued among those still vehemently against the Games taking place while Tokyo remains in a state of COVID emergency.

More on Tokyo 2020 Olympics

There were also people outside who just felt drawn to the Olympic stadium – to come and wave to the very select numbers of VIPs and media going inside. It was as close as they could get to the Games that they had waited almost a decade for.

While these Olympics will feel unusual there were reminders too of the magic they can create.

There was a towering Tongan taekwondo player who strode into the stadium with his bare oiled chest puffed out as he carried his island nation’s flag like a warrior on a mission.

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Protests held outside Olympic stadium

The Olympics can still produce special moments like that and there will be plenty more over the coming weeks.

There will be more COVID-19 disruption too but the Games of 2020 are finally open, just one year late.

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Business leaders have ‘obligation to speak up’, ex-Unilever boss says amid Ben & Jerry’s row | Business News



Unilever’s ex-boss has said business leaders have an “obligation to speak up” after his former company became embroiled in a row with Israel over its Ben & Jerry’s business.

Paul Polman mounted a defence of the need to “fight for what is right” in remarks to Sky News after the ice cream brand said it would stop selling its products in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Ben & Jerry’s is owned by consumer goods giant Unilever – whose array of brands ranges from Marmite spread to Dove soap – but has an independent board to take such decisions.

Alan Jope, Unilever chief executive
Current boss Alan Jope has spoken to Israel’s prime minister about the matter

Its announcement is one of the strongest steps taken by a well-known company over Israel’s settlements, which are widely seen as illegal by the international community.

The move drew condemnation from the Israeli government, whose new prime minister Naftali Bennett said this week that Israel would “use the tools at its disposal – including legal – on this issue” and that those taking such action “need to know that there will be a price to pay”.

Mr Polman, speaking to Sky’s Ian King Live, said it would be inappropriate to say how he would have handled the issue had he still been in charge of Unilever.

But he added: “What is very important is if we want humanity to function for the long term we need to be sure that we fight for the basic values, the basic values of dignity, respect, equity, compassion.

“If we see these values being violated anywhere in the world I think we have an obligation to speak up.

“What we’ve seen in the US in the last few years – too few people, also from the business side, spoke up against things that then bit by bit moved the boundaries and put us in a very difficult situation.

Naftali Bennett will serve as prime minister for two years
Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett said there would be a “price to pay”

“So, fight for what is right and one of the few things we should fight for always is, these basic human rights.”

Mr Polman was speaking a day after current Unilever boss Alan Jope, in a conference call to discuss latest results, said the company remains “fully committed” to doing business in Israel but gave no indication that Unilever would press Ben & Jerry’s to reverse the decision.

Mr Jope, who has spoken to Mr Bennett on the phone to discuss the matter, said that it was a “complex and sensitive matter”.

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Tokyo Olympics 2020: Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine withdraws to avoid facing Israeli competitor Tohar Butbul | World News



An Algerian judo competitor has withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics after learning he could have faced an Israeli opponent.

Fethi Nourine said his political support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible to compete against Tohar Butbul.

He told Algerian TV he would not “get his hands dirty” and his “decision was final”.

“We worked a lot to reach the Olympics, and the news came as a shock, a thunder”, he added.

Tohar Butbul of Israel
Tohar Butbul of Israel

The 30-year-old was drawn against Sudan’s Mohamed Asdalrasool on Monday for his first match in the men’s 73kg class. If he had won that match, he would have faced Butbul, who has a first-round bye, in the next round.

Nourine also withdrew from the world championships in 2019 for the same reason.

At the time, his coach Amar Ben Yaklif was quoted in Algerian media saying: “We were unlucky with the draw. We got an Israeli opponent and that’s why we had to retire. We made the right decision.”

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Tensions between Israel and Palestinians flared in Jerusalem earlier this year causing the worst violence in the region since 2014.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Judo - Training Sessions - Nippon Budokan, Tokyo, Japan - July 22, 2021. Technicians work on the mat in Nippon Budokan Arena, during training sessions. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
Judo training sessions take place at the Tokyo Games

The conflict between the two sides has been going on for decades and has seen athletes from Iran and Egypt also previously refuse to compete against Israeli opponents.

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The opening ceremony for this year’s Olympic games took place on Friday, with fans not allowed in the national stadium for the event due to COVID-19 concerns.

Instead, around 1,000 dignitaries and members of the media were allowed the witness the spectacular event.

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