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Italy’s Di Maio quits 5Stars, leading to party split

ROME — Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio has split from the 5Star Movement and taken a number of lawmakers with him in protest at the party’s stance on supplying arms to Ukraine.

Di Maio, a central figure in the movement and its former leader, announced his departure on Tuesday evening. He accused the 5Stars of undermining government efforts to support Ukraine and of weakening Rome’s international standing in an attempt to gain a few extra votes.

Having initially, and reluctantly, backed the government’s decision to send arms to Ukraine, Giuseppe Conte, the leader of the 5Stars — which are part of the governing coalition — has in recent weeks increased his opposition, saying weapons were fuelling the war and calling for dialogue with Russia instead.

At a press conference in Rome on Tuesday, Di Maio said it was necessary “to choose which side of history to be on, with the attacked Ukraine or the aggressor Russia. The positions of some leaders of the 5Stars threatened to weaken our country.”

“The largest political force in parliament has a duty to support the government without ambiguity,” he said, adding: “To risk the stability of the government just because of a crisis in the polls is irresponsible. This war is not a media show, it is real, the victims are real.”

Di Maio did not give the precise number of lawmakers that have agreed to go with him but indicated that he will be accompanied by a sizeable breakaway group. “From tomorrow the 5Stars will no longer be the largest party in parliament,” he said, adding that he was not starting a new party but embarking on “a journey.”

He said leaving the 5Stars was “a painful choice that he never thought he would make.”

Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, leader of the centrist party Italia Viva, said: “Today the story of the 5Star Movement ends.”

Di Maio’s departure risks causing problems for Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government. Di Maio said that he and the breakaway parliamentarians would continue to support the government. But Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League, warned earlier Tuesday that having a foreign minister who does not represent his party “is problematic.”

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