NOEL KING, HOST:

In Italy, Giuseppe Conte has resigned as prime minister of a coalition government after only about 14 months in power. His resignation throws Italy into a state

of political uncertainty. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is on the line from Italy. Hi, Sylvia.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Hi there, Noel.

KING: So Conte announced his resignation in the Italian Senate. What did he say? Why is he resigning?

POGGIOLI: Well, he gave a blistering speech. He attacked his deputy prime minister, interior minister and the leader of the League party, Matteo Salvini, of triggering the crisis for his own political and personal gain. Conte described Salvini's actions as serious institutional recklessness that show disrespect for Parliament and is liable to tip the country into a spiral of political uncertainty and financial instability.

He also reprimanded Salvini for his blatant exhibition of religious symbols, like the rosary, during political rallies, saying that offends the faithful and undermines the secular nation - nature of the state.

KING: All right, if Conte is out, what happens to Salvini now? Does he ascend to a different role, or does he stay where he is?

POGGIOLI: No, no. What happens will - the government will be disbanded, and there will be now political consultations, which are basically handled by the president of Italy, who has a lot of - has certain amount of powers in holding consultations leading to governments. Certainly, Salvini thought he would get - he triggered these elections. He - he's triggered the government collapse in the hopes of having snap elections. And - but he - seems his timing was wrong. He was - he seems to have miscalculated. The notion of his becoming prime minister is terrifying to many in the opposition.

So the Democratic Party and Salvini's erstwhile partners, the Five Star Movement, who are dire rivals until yesterday, they're contemplating a coalition together. It won't be easy. They are opposite - on opposite sides of many issues. If a viable alternative majority cannot be formed, the president will probably appoint a caretaker government and would - that would stay in office until elections, possibly the end of October.

KING: Why does Salvini ascending terrify some people? What do he and his League party stand for?

POGGIOLI: Well, he is seen very much as very authoritarian. His motto, like that of many of the populist movements in Europe, is sovereignism, the sense that Italy does not have to listen or follow instructions from - what he defines - the EU masters in Brussels. Italy, like 27 other countries, is a member of the European Union, and they all have agreed to certain regulations. And a country like Italy that has a very high deficit has to follow certain rules in its budget and in its spending. And he can't stand that.

Today he said in Parliament, we do not answer to German Chancellor Angela Merkel or French President Emmanuel Macron. Salvini's very proud of his anti-immigrant policy. His ban on rescue ships from docking at Italian ports has caused several showdowns with rescue ships. And today he referred to migrants as the new slaves who serve the interests of certain groups, which it could be a coded reference to the so-called Great Replacement conspiracy theory.

KING: My goodness. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Italy. Sylvia, thanks so much for this update.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Noel.

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