- ITV News Correspondent Dan Rivers reports from Paris
France is recalling its ambassador to Italy following a secret meeting between a deputy prime minister and yellow vest protesters.
The recalling of the ambassador from Italy is the first time France has done so since fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was in power, and comes after Italy’s deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio met earlier this week with supporters of the Gilet Jaune (or yellow vest) group seeking to run in the European Parliament elections in May, without telling the French Government about the visit.
In recent weeks yellow vest protesters have demonstrated across France, many peacefully, but others have caused damage and violently clashed with police.
The nationwide demonstrations were initially triggered by the rising cost of fuel but have since morphed into a broader anti-government revolt.
France's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Agnes von der Muhll said in a statement that the ambassador is being brought back for “consultations” following the "unacceptable" interference in French democracy, and urged Italy to return to friendly relations worthy of “our common destiny”.
“The campaign for the European elections cannot justify the lack of respect for each people or for their democracy,” Ms von der Muhll said.
Mr Di Maio has said his populist movement is ready to help France’s anti-government protesters, and has accused France of fuelling Europe’s migrant crisis.
Mr Di Maio’s meeting with yellow vest activists came after Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called President Macron “a terrible president” in January.
He said he hoped French voters would send President Macron a message during the European elections by showing their support for far-right leader Marine Le Pen, with whom Mr Salvini is allied in European politics.
Mr Di Maio had already sparked annoyance in January when he accused France of leading colonial-style policies in Africa, prompting the French Foreign Ministry to summon the Italian ambassador.
And the Italian government last autumn accused France of dumping underage migrants over the border without authorisation.
“For several months, France has been the subject of repeated accusations, unfounded attacks and outrageous declarations,” Ms von der Muhll said.
“This is unprecedented since the end of (World War II). To have disagreements is one thing, to exploit the relationship for electoral purposes is another.”
After meeting with members of the Citizens’ Initiative Rally group of yellow vests on Tuesday, Mr Di Maio boasted on Twitter that “the wind of change has crossed the Alps”.