UPDATED: Italy’s Chamber of Deputies picks pro-Russian Fontana as speaker

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ROME, Oct 14 (Reuters) – A pro-Russia, anti-gay politician was elected speaker of Italy’s lower house of parliament on Friday, the day after a veteran nationalist lawmaker who collects fascist memorabilia became speaker of the upper house Senate.

The twin votes followed last month’s general election which was won by a trio of conservative parties, Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, Matteo Salvini’s League and Forza Italia, which is led by former premier Silvio Berlusconi.

Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni is expected to be named prime minister before the end of the month at the head of the most right-wing government since World War Two.

The new parliament opened on Thursday and immediately elected Ignazio La Russa, who co-founded Brothers of Italy with Meloni, as speaker of the Senate.

On Friday, the lower house picked League lawmaker Lorenzo Fontana as its speaker. He is known for his socially conservative, eurosceptic positions and has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him in 2018 “a shining light even for us in the West”.

Fontana won 222 votes in the 400-seat chamber, securing support from most, but not all the 237 lawmakers from the conservative bloc, which has been badly strained by divisions over the distribution of cabinet seats in the new government.

Berlusconi, in particular, has expressed fury over Meloni’s refusal to give him all the ministerial positions he demanded, and most of his Forza Italia senators did not vote for La Russa on Thursday.

Fontana is a controversial figure in Italy. He once said that gay marriage and mass immigration threatened to wipe out Italy’s traditions and he is fervently anti-abortion.

He has also called for the abolition of a 1993 anti-fascist and anti-racist law that, amongst other things, made it a crime to propagate “ideas based on racial or ethnic superiority or hatred”.

He repeatedly called for the lifting of European sanctions that were imposed against Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014. In 2018 he said: “I have been favourably impressed by so many of Putin’s statements and by the great Christian religious awakening seen in the country.”

League to nominate Giorgetti for economy ministry

Meanwhile, Giancarlo Giorgetti will be the League’s candidate if the party is asked to take charge of the economy ministry in Italy’s next government, League leader Matteo Salvini said on Friday.

Giorgetti, the outgoing industry minister in Mario Draghi’s national unity government, is considered one of the League’s most moderate, pro-European figures.

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