Rome, March 19 - House caucus leader for the 5-Star Movement (M5S) Roberta Lombardi drew criticism from media professionals on Tuesday for refusing to take questions after a press conference in what appears to be the latest in a series of communications 'blunders' by the populist and anti-establishment party of comedian Beppe Grillo. "They have already become like the others" was a common verdict from journalists present at the hastily convened press conference to present the movement's candidates for top House positions after Lombardi refused to end the meeting with questions from the floor. Earlier in the day Puglia regional governor and leader of Left Ecology Freedom (SEL), Nichi Vendola, reiterated denials that he had called a M5S senator, Francesco Campanella, to invite him to join his party as reported by the latter, and threatened to press defamation charges unless he apologised. "I don't know if it was a joke, it sounded like Vendola," said Campanella in self-defence, later adding that he and Vendola had since spoken to clarify the matter. Vendola also denied that this second call had ever taken place. On Monday House representative Gessica Rostellato came under fire for failing to answer questions put to her by a reporter from the satirical television show Le Iene. She suffered ridicule for failing to correctly identify Mario Draghi as president of the European Central Bank and former governor of the Bank of Italy - a 'slip' for which she later apologised on Facebook. She was also forced to apologise for a separate incident involving the refusal to shake hands with Democratic Party (PD) President, Rosy Bindi, in parliament. M5S co-founder and political guru Gianroberto Casaleggio has deployed two of his chief bloggers to Rome to oversee communications among the movement's 162 elected representatives. The party holds the balance of power in parliament after February general elections gave Pier Luigi Bersani's centre-left coalition a clear majority in the lower chamber but not enough support to win the confidence of the equally powerful Senate. Since then Bersani has been trying to woo Grillo with little success, although after successfully imposing his candidate for the speakership of the Senate thanks to support from some M5S representatives cracks have begun to appear within the party.
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di Sebastiano Caspanello