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Govt rift emerges as Salvini backs high-speed rail link with France

POLITICS
Govt rift emerges as Salvini backs high-speed rail link with France

Photo: AFP

Italy's interior minister and deputy premier Matteo Salvini on Friday said a controversial high-speed rail link with France should go ahead, underscoring a rift within the two parties in the populist coalition government.

"I believe we need to move forward not go back," Salvini told Radio 24's 'Mattino 24' programme.

"We need the rail link," he said.

"If it should emerge from an official analysis that we don't need it, does it cost more to block it than to complete it?"

"I am not going to let Italians pay billions of euros," Salvini said.

Italy's non-partisan premier Giuseppe Conte, with the support of the grassroots Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio, is poised to take steps to halt the high-speed rail project, known as TAV, several Italian newspapers reported on Friday.

The 270-kilometre link will connect Turin and Lyon via a 60-kilometre tunnel below the Alps, at an estimated cost of 26 billion euros.

But Salvini’s rightwing League party - Five Star's coalition partner - backs the costly rail plan, which for years has been the target of protests by environmental campaigners.

The cost of pulling out of the TAV is estimated at more than 2 billion euros, according to an independent study presented to the Italian cabinet in May.

Italy has already spent 400 million euros on preparatory work for the project and could incur hefty penalties from France and the European Union if it pulls the plug on the project.

Under a 2016 deal, the EU agreed to pay 40 percent, Italy 35 percent and France 25 percent of the TAV's costs.

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