Italian comic-turned-politician Beppe Grillo swam across the strait of Messina to Sicily today to open the campaign of his insurgent, anti-austerity movement on the island before local elections later this month.
Grillo, 64, left the village of Cannitello in Calabria on mainland Italy at about 11 a.m. under a light rain, a live broadcast of the event of the website of Corriere della Sera showed. Dozens of supporters of his Five-Star Movement trailed Grillo in boats along the 2.2-mile swim. About an hour later he came ashore in Sicily where he was greeted by hundreds of fans.
In the next three weeks Grillo will tour the island where voters elect the region’s assembly and government on Oct. 28. Five Star will also participate in general elections scheduled for next year after emerging as Italy’s third-biggest party in local voting in May.
Grillo’s party is the latest to benefit from rising anger in the euro region over tax increases and budget cuts in response to the sovereign debt crisis. The group opposed Prime Minister Mario Monti’s austerity measures adopted after the premier was appointed in December, and Grillo has questioned whether Italy should remain in the euro.
The 5 Star Movement won four mayoral seats in northern Italy, including the city of Parma in the May elections. Since then, polls indicate their support is growing nationally. Recent opinion polls put the party’s national backing at between 15 percent and 18 percent.
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