Rome

Bossi calls Maroni 'traitor', sparks League uproar

Founder's remarks 'hurt movement' say party leaders

Bossi calls Maroni 'traitor', sparks League uproar

(By Christopher Livesay) Rome, June 4 - The founder of the Northern League sparked a party uproar Tuesday when he said he should return to lead the regionalist movement after calling party head and Lombardy Governor Roberto Maroni a "traitor" for allying too closely with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and the center right. "He doesn't share our ideals," said Umberto Bossi in an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica. "I must absolutely come back to lead the party". Bossi, who in the 1980s spearheaded the movement that eventually became the Northern League, stepped down from the helm in April, 2012 when it was announced he was being probed for alleged corruption. Maroni then took over, and signs of a strained relationship soon surfaced. That July, Maroni said Bossi only played an "emotional role" in the party, to which the party founder took offence. "I'm the boss. There are many small dogs who bark very loudly but don't frighten anyone," said Bossi. On Wednesday he directed his ire at Maroni for "fooling himself into thinking he'll become Berlusconi's plenipotentiary in the north". A long-time ally of Berlusconi, the League broke from his People of Freedom (PdL) party when the center-right bloc first backed the unelected technocrat government of Mario Monti in 2011. Divisions between the parties persisted until January when the PdL reached a deal to resume its alliance with the League, which stated that Berlusconi would not become Italian premier for a fourth time if the centre-right coalition won. In exchange, the PdL backed Maroni in his successful election bid to become governor of Italy's richest region, Lombardy. The PdL went on to win substantial votes in general elections, albeit slightly fewer than the center-left Democratic Party (PD), forcing the two blocs to eventually forge a fragile left-right coalition headed by the PD's Enrico Letta. The League founder blasted Maroni for giving into Berlusconi, "who doesn't believe in (northern) independence". Regional independence for northern Italy was once a cornerstone of the League's ideology, but in recent years the party has softened on the issue, even with Bossi at the reins. Bossi's remarks were met with unanimous rebuke from high-ranking Northern League members who chided the party founder for "hurting the movement". "Umberto Bossi, whom I respect and will always recognize for what he's created, is making a mistake," Northern League Deputy Secretary Matteo Salvini told ANSA. "Saying such things hurts the movement". Verona Mayor Flavio Tosi, the head of the League's Veneto region chapter, said Bossi's comments were "deleterious" and were sure to further damage the party, which has suffered fallout from accusations tied to former League treasurer Francesco Belsito, who was arrested in April on charges of alleged criminal association and aggravated fraud. Investigators say some of the money embezzled money went towards a 2.5-million-euro yacht allegedly bought by Bossi's son Riccardo. The Bossi family has denied all wrongdoing. Tosi said Bossi's remarks were especially harmful given they came five days before runoffs in local elections. "He's shooting off (his mouth)" without "any ability to create consensus," he added. Veneto Governor Luca Zaia said the remarks hurt "a party whose true strength has always come from its monolithic unity (and) washing its dirty laundry in house". Maroni avoided comment. "I'm even working today to solve citizens' problems," he posted on Twitter.

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