Thousands marched in Italy's northern city of Milan, a far-right Liga Nord stronghold, to protest Interior Minister Salvini's 'Italians First' policies.
Milan's streets were filled Saturday with tens of thousands of anti-nationalist protesters who say Italy’s national government is enacting racist policies they don’t want to be a part of.
The demonstrators played drums and trumpets as they marched peacefully among northern Italy’s main streets and shouted "prima le persone" (people first) to counter the vocally anti-immigrant prime minister’s "prima gli Italiani" (Italians first).
Matteo Salvini, who had served as Italy’s foreign minister and vice president of the cabinet since last June when a new government was installed, has long promoted closed-border policies.
Since taking power, Salvini, who is also secretary general of the populist, ultra-right Liga Nord (North League) party that has advocated for a northern Italy secession, has denied several ships carrying refugees from Northern Africa, mainly Libya, to port in southern Italy.
Last August Italy denied safe harbor to 141 people rescued by a humanitarian ship off of Libya’s coast. The Aquarius, run by the Franco-German charity SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF), picked up the people in international waters between Italy and Malta as they were trying to reach European shores.
As the ship floated at sea for several days Salvini tweeted: "It can go where it wants, not in Italy!" mentioning France, Germany, Britain or Malta as possible destinations.
"Stop human traffickers and their accomplices," he wrote.
Saturday’s rally was a "powerful political testimonial that Italy is not just the country that it is currently being described as," said Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala.
Milan common councilor member, Pierfrancesco Majorino, said that 200,000 people attended the protest.
CGIL labor union chief Maurizio Landini told DW the governing coalition in Rome "is promoting the wrong policies, and is not fighting inequalities."
The Milan protesters said they want an end to the government’s racist and discriminatory acts.
"We want Italy and Europe to change their policies, to put people at the center with their difficulties," a man told Italian broadcaster Rai TV.
"Receiving people is a very beautiful thing and diversity is an enrichment," one women protester told a reporter.
Another demonstrator said: "People before profit, before differences, before identities and always respect their rights," according to Euronews.
One woman was asked why she joined the rally. She said, "We are against this atmosphere of racism and because our families chose to be of many colours and differences."