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Mar 14, 4:26 PM EDT

Italy right-wing leader says open to coalition with 5-Stars

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ROME (AP) -- Italian euroskeptic leader Matteo Salvini on Wednesday said he'd be willing to form a government coalition with the other big winner of the country's election, the 5-Star Movement, if the rival populists back his League's promises to voters like lowering the retirement age and taxes.

Salvini's anti-migrant League was the largest vote-getter in a center-right coalition that captured 37 percent of the votes in the March 4 elections for Parliament. The 5-Stars, with 32 percent, emerged as Italy's biggest single party. Neither force has enough seats in Parliament to govern alone.

The only party Salvini ruled out of any deal was the "defeated" Democrats, who were crushed in the vote.

"Leaving out the DP (Democratic Party), everything is possible" in terms of a coalition formula that can guarantee a "solid majority" of support in Parliament, Salvini said a news conference for foreign correspondents in Rome.

Asked by The Associated Press if he could accept a League-5-Star government in which not himself, but Movement leader Luigi Di Maio or somebody else might be premier, Salvini indicated he could.

"It's not like I get up each morning saying, 'Matteo, you must be premier,'" Salvini said.

Salvini ruled out cobbling together some fragile coalition government the League could join "at all costs to be a minister for a few months."

His main campaign coalition partner was Silvio Berlusconi, the media mogul and former premier. During the campaign, Berlusconi branded the 5-Stars as a "sect" whose politicians are "worse than Communists." But after Berlusconi's Forza Italia took a drubbing in the election, the ex-premier no longer dominates the center-right grouping.

Formal talks to find a possible governing coalition are weeks away. Italy's head of state, President Sergio Mattarella, is expected to start sounding out political leaders after the new Parliament first meets on March 23.

Since the election, Di Maio, who insists he should be premier, has appeared intent on dispelling concerns internationally that the 5-Stars might adopt policies of extremist parties gaining traction in much of Europe.

Salvini on Wednesday said if the League governs, he will speed up processing of migrant asylum bids so the undeserving can be swiftly kicked out of Italy. He also renewed his scorn for the "erroneous" euro currency.

He renewed his admiration for Russia, taking the EU to task for making a multi-billion deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants into Greece and northward, and for maintaining economic sanctions against Moscow over Ukraine.

Salvini, who has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Milan, told reporters that Russia, in terms of culture, "has much more in common with Europe than does a country like Turkey."

He added: "It's not like Putin calls me every night, but it strikes me as counter-productive to fight with a neighbor like Russia."

Asked how he'd get along with President Donald Trump if he should become premier, Salvini had a one-word answer: "Brilliantly."


Frances D'Emilio is on Twitter at

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