ROME (AP) — The head of Italy's populist 5-Star Movement led thousands in a 15-mile march Saturday to demand a guaranteed minimum income for citizens as the party seeks to widen its appeal in hopes of clinching the national power for the first time.
Comic Beppe Grillo described the march between the Perugia and Assisi, another Umbrian town 25 kilometers (15 miles) away, as a way to express support for human dignity.
The 5-Stars contend that aid for the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have arrived in Italy after being rescued at sea in the last few years risks coming at the expense of Italians struggling during the nation's economic slump.
Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis, who championed the needs of the poor.
"It's we who are the real Franciscans," Grillo told reporters.
The push for a guaranteed income for Italian citizens is a major theme of the 5-Stars, who are keen on gaining national power in the next parliamentary election, which is due by spring 2018.
The 5-Stars have been courting centrist voters and have been expressing openness toward dialogue with the Catholic church on issues like poverty.
In Milan, thousands turned out to march against racism and other forms of intolerance toward migrants and foreigners.
In the past year, some Italians have protested against migrants being housed in their towns while asylum requests are processed.
Senate President Pietro Grasso addressed the Milan gathering, calling the rally a response to those who want to erect "cultural, ideological walls" against migrants. He said the outpouring of citizens sends a message that Milan and other places welcoming foreigners are "modern, cosmopolitan, democratic."
"Those who are born in this country, go to school with our children, root for our teams" are Italian, Grasso declared, in a reference to the minimum income that populists want to grant only to Italian citizens.
Many of the migrants rescued at sea hope to eventually reach northern Europe, to find relatives and better job prospects.
On Saturday, the Italian coast guard said some 2,100 migrants had been rescued at sea and were being to safety in Italy, including a 6-week-old boy. One body was also recovered.
Italy has been shouldering the bulk of the tens of thousands of migrants and refugees who have come across the Mediterranean Sea this year. A European Union deal for several northern European countries to take in many of those rescued migrants has failed to relieve Italy of caring for so many in need.