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Zelensky appearance at Italy's Sanremo song contest sparks row

Controversy mounts in Italy over Zelensky broadcast during nation's main song festival.

A planned appearance by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky as a guest at Italy's top music festival Sanremo is attracting criticism from across the political spectrum.

Zelensky is scheduled to appear at Sanremo - Italy's answer to Eurovision - via a video message on the final night of the annual song contest, 11 February.

However opposition to Zelensky's appearance at Sanremo has been mounting since the news was announced in mid-January by veteran Italian journalist Bruno Vespa who travelled to Kyiv to interview the Ukrainian president.

The song contest will be hosted at the Teatro Ariston in Sanremo, a seaside town on Italy's northwest Ligurian coast, where 28 artists will battle it out over five nights from 7-11 February.

"Let's hope that Sanremo will remain the Italian song festival and nothing else", Matteo Salvini, Italy's deputy premier and leader of the right-wing Lega party said on Thursday, adding: "I hope that the war will end as soon as possible and that the stage of the city of flowers [Sanremo] remains reserved for music."

Salvini returned to the contentious theme on Saturday, saying that "an appearance at Sanremo will not put an end to this war".

Giuseppe Conte, former premier and leader of the populist Movimento 5 Stelle, said that he had been "very happy" when Zelensky was invited to address the Italian parliament last March but stressed: "I frankly don't believe that it is so necessary for President Zelensky to (appear) in a light context such as Sanremo."

Carlo Calenda, leader of the centrist Azione, wrote on Twitter: "There is little doubt about our line of support for Ukraine. However, I consider it a mistake to combine a musical event with the message of the President of a country at war.”

Gianni Cuperlo, a leadership candidate of the centre-left Partito Democratico, wrote on Facebook that if state broadcaster RAI wished to show a message from Zelensky then it should be screened separately to Sanremo.

A group of left-wing politicians and intellectuals is also planning to stage a protest on the streets of Sanremo on 11 February, and has launched an online petition against "the spectacularisation and militarisation" of the song contest.

Vespa, a senior figure at RAI, told news agency ANSA on Saturday that he "frankly doesn't understand all the uproar" over Zelensky's appearance at Sanremo.

"High-profile personalities from international politics have taken part in the festival and all social issues have been dealt with" - Vespa told ANSA - "Zelensky was a guest at the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals, as well as at the Golden Globes, and I regret this ill will towards a man who is fighting with extraordinary courage to save the freedom of his people".

Zelensky's pre-recorded video message, expected to last a couple of minutes, is scheduled to be broadcast late on the final night on Sanremo, before the performance of the contest's five short-listed acts.

Photo credit: Shag 7799 / Shutterstock.com.

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