February 13, 2018 / 3:21 PM / a year ago

Alitalia must not be sold off to foreign companies - League leader

FILE PHOTO:Northern League leader Matteo Salvini looks on before the rally in Bologna, central Italy, November 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

ROME (Reuters) - The leader of Italy’s right-wing Northern League, part of a coalition tipped to get the most votes at an election on March 4, said on Tuesday national airline Alitalia must not be sold off at cut rates.

“Italy needs a flag carrier, no fire sales to multinationals or foreigners,” League leader Matteo Salvini said on his way in to a business association event in Rome.

The government is now trying to sell Alitalia, which has turned a profit only a few times in its more than 70-year history. Several foreign buyers have expressed interest in the troubled airline, but the government has missed its self-imposed deadline of mid-January to start exclusive sale talks.

Alitalia has played a central role in previous Italian election campaigns, including that led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in 2008. Berlusconi, who said at the time that he would favour an Italian buyer for the loss-making firm, is running in coalition with Salvini in the upcoming vote.

Reporting by Alberto Sisto, writing by Isla Binnie

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