The leader of an Italian far-right opposition party came under fire Monday after comparing the female speaker of the lower house of parliament - one of his chief political opponents - to an inflatable doll.
The incident involving Matteo Salvini took place at a Friday rally of the Northern League in a town some 70 kilometers east of Milan. The President of the Chamber of Deputies, Laura Boldrini, publicized it three days later.
In a video on her Facebook page, Salvini can be seen addressing a crowd, looking over his shoulder, pointing to an inflatable doll and saying: "There is a Boldrini lookalike here, I don't know if they have shown her before."
"Women are not dolls, and political battles should be based on arguments, for those who have any, not on insults," Boldrini commented.
Salvini's outburst was also criticized by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Maria Elena Boschi. She issued a statement dismissing it as a "squalid display of sexism."
A former spokeswoman for UN Refugee Agency UNHCR, elected for a leftist party, Boldrini is often a target of right-wing criticism for her defense of migrants' rights. The Northern League claims that Italy spends too much on migrants and too little on its citizens.
Speaking on the SkyTG24 news channel, Salvini stood by his remarks, turning down invitations to present an apology. "God forbid. It is Boldrini who should apologize to Italians, because she is racist towards them," he said.