Born in Rome on January 15, 1977, Meloni was brought up in the working-class neighbourhood of Garbatella by her mother, after her father left them.
She has long been involved in politics — becoming the youngest minister in post-war Italian history at 31 — and co-founded Brothers of Italy in 2012.
In the 2018 general elections, her party secured just four percent of the vote but looked set to secure 26 percent in Sunday’s general elections.
That put Meloni ahead of not just her rivals but also her coalition allies, Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League and Forza Italia’s Silvio Berlusconi, in whose government she served in 2008.
Meloni has benefited from being the only party in opposition for the past 18 months, after choosing to stay out of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity government.
At the same time, she has sought to reassure those who question her lack of experience, with her slogan “Ready” adorning billboards up and down the country.
Wary of Italy’s huge debt, she has emphasised fiscal prudence, despite her coalition’s call for tax cuts and higher social spending.
Her stance on Europe has moderated over the years — she no longer wants Italy to leave the EU’s single currency and has strongly backed the bloc’s sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine war.
However, she says Rome must stand up more for its national interests and has backed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in his battles with Brussels.
Meloni was a teenage activist with the youth wing of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), formed by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after World War II.
At 19, campaigning for the far-right National Alliance, she told French television that “Mussolini was a good politician, in that everything he did, he did for Italy”.
After being elected an MP for National Alliance in 2006, she shifted her tone, saying the dictator had made “mistakes”, notably the racial laws, his authoritarianism, and entering World War II on the side of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
Her party takes its name from the first line of Italy’s national anthem and its logo includes the same flame used by MSI, in the green, white and red of the country’s flag.
She has refused calls to change the logo, insisting the flame has “nothing to do with fascism” — and blaming talk to the contrary on “the left”.
She insists that within her party “there is no room for nostalgic attitudes”.
On abortion, she says she has no plans to change the law, which allows terminations but permits doctors to refuse to carry them out.
However, she says she wants to “give to women who think abortion is their only choice the right to make a different choice”.
Meloni has a daughter, born in 2016, with her TV journalist partner, and is a huge fan of “Lord of the Rings”.
The leading cabinet lieutenants of Britain’s third woman prime minister share her right-wing ideology. They are all also people of colour.
For the first time in UK history, no white men will occupy any of the four “great offices of state”: prime minister, Treasury, foreign office and home affairs.
Britain might even have got its first ethnic Indian occupant of 10 Downing Street. But Liz Truss beat Rishi Sunak in the ruling Conservative party’s contest to find a successor to Boris Johnson.
Traditionally the party of the better-off establishment, the Conservatives have made bigger strides towards ethnic and gender diversity in their top ranks than the centre-left Labour opposition.
Labour has still to elect a permanent woman leader, but surveys show it retains a hold on most non-white voters who credit its progressive economic policies and its historical fight against racism.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner admitted the Tories were ahead in their visible diversity.
“That’s progress, and that’s really welcome. We do need diversity,” she told BBC radio Tuesday as Truss prepared to announce her senior team.
But Rayner added: “It’s about what you do as well as where you come from.
“Liz Truss has been part of the (Johnson) cabinet that has made the decisions that have got us into the mess that we’re in.”
‘Kind of banal’
With arguably the toughest brief at a time of economic crisis, Kwasi Kwarteng was appointed by Truss to become Britain’s first black chancellor of the exchequer.
As the first black foreign secretary, James Cleverly will offer a different diplomatic face for a country that once ruled a quarter of the planet.
Suella Braverman, whose family roots are in India, was meanwhile named home secretary with oversight of policing and immigration.
The new ministers are ardent opponents of “woke” awareness in race, and support UK plans to send would-be migrants arriving by boat to Rwanda.
University of Manchester political scientist Rob Ford said many minority politicians in the Conservative party “have extremely individualist views about race and disadvantage”.
They believe that “anybody can succeed regardless of their background”, he told AFP, arguing also that it was now commonplace to see people of colour occupying top jobs in UK politics.
“The very fact that this is now kind of banal is what makes it remarkable,” Ford said — while stressing that social class remains a daunting barrier.
When David Cameron became Tory party leader in 2005, he encouraged a new generation of Tories of colour, and women, to stand for parliament and take the electoral fight to Tony Blair’s “New Labour”.
Truss herself was a beneficiary of Cameron’s selection reforms.
But it still helps to have gone to the right school.
Kwarteng studied at the exclusive Eton College — Cameron and Johnson’s alma mater — before going on to the University of Cambridge, where Braverman also did her degree.
Cleverly was privately educated too, before entering the army.
Sunder Katwala, director of the research group British Future, said the Conservatives still have work to do to erode Labour’s lead among minority voters.
“The left doubts if ethnic faces in high places make much difference, especially if they replicate the educational privileges of the existing elites,” he wrote in the Eastern Eye newspaper.
There were eight candidates at the start of the Conservatives’ leadership race in July: half were women, and half were from ethnic minorities.
They included the right-winger Kemi Badenoch, who is also tipped for a role in the Truss cabinet.
Badenoch and Braverman are both enthusiastic combatants in Britain’s “culture wars”.
The new home secretary earned a rebuke from Jewish leaders in 2019 when she attacked “cultural Marxism” — an anti-Semitic jibe coined by the Nazis and popular today among the far-right.
But such outspokenness has made the likes of Braverman, Badenoch and former home secretary Priti Patel popular with the older and largely white Tory membership, if less so among minority voters at large.
Katwala cautioned: “Some feel it can even be actively regressive if ethnic minority ministers feel a particular pressure to outflank their colleagues on the right.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday condemned Russia’s “egregious” and “unprovoked” attack on Ukraine, calling on Moscow to immediately withdraw from the country and saying its aggression “will not go unpunished.”
“Canada condemns in the strongest possible terms Russia’s egregious attack on Ukraine,” Trudeau said in a statement issued in the hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of military operations.
The Canadian leader called the “unprovoked actions” a clear further violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and called on Russia to “immediately cease all hostile and provocative actions against Ukraine and withdraw all military and proxy forces from the country.”
Trudeau warned of “severe consequences” for Moscow, vowing with allies “to collectively respond to these reckless and dangerous acts,” including imposing more sanctions.
“Russia’s brazen acts will not go unpunished,” he said.
Trudeau was due to join a virtual, closed-door meeting of G7 leaders — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — at 9:00 am (1400 GMT) Thursday.
The G7 meeting is likely to result in more sanctions against Russia, which has long claimed it would not invade Ukraine, despite putting a huge force of tens of thousands of soldiers and heavy weaponry on the country’s borders, while insisting that Kyiv abandon its pro-Western ambitions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has “gone full tonto” by ordering his troops into two rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine, Britain’s defence secretary said Wednesday in unguarded comments to military officials.
Ben Wallace made the candid comments suggesting Putin had lost his mind while also comparing the Russian leader to Tsar Nicholas I, who struggled for allies during the Crimean War in the mid-19th century.
“We’ve got a busy adversary now in Putin, who has gone full tonto,” Wallace — a former army officer — told serving personnel in a government building in Westminster, Britain’s Press Association news agency reported.
“Tsar Nicholas I made the same mistake Putin did… he had no friends, no alliances.
“The Scots Guards kicked the backside of Tsar Nicholas I in 1853 in Crimea — we can always do it again,” Wallace, who served in the same regiment, was overheard saying.
In December, it increased the amount of financial support available to Ukraine to £3.5 billion and signed a treaty on modernising its navy.
Earlier this month it also announced £100 million in extra assistance to be provided over three years to help the ex-Soviet country boost the economy and reduce dependency on energy imports.
The latest commitments come a day after Britain slapped sanctions on five Russian banks and three billionaires, in what Johnson branded “the first barrage” of measures in response to the Kremlin’s actions.
However, he faced criticism from numerous lawmakers, including from within his ruling Conservatives, that the measures were woefully insufficient.
He and his ministers have insisted tougher measures are set to follow but depend on Moscow’s actions.
Johnson also announced Wednesday that his culture minister had asked media regulator Ofcom to review the UK broadcasting licence of Kremlin-backed television channel RT.
In a leaked letter to Ofcom, Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries urged the agency to take “timely and transparent” action against RT, which she warned seeks to spread “harmful disinformation”.
An Ofcom spokesperson confirmed receipt of the letter to AFP, adding: “All licensees must observe Ofcom’s rules, including due accuracy and due impartiality.
“If broadcasters break those rules, we will not hesitate to step in. Given the seriousness of the Ukraine crisis, we will examine complaints about any broadcaster’s news coverage of this issue as a priority.”
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova hit back on Telegram saying “If Britain turns its threat towards Russian media into a reality, retaliatory measures will not take long to come.
“British journalists can ask their German colleagues what this looks like,” she said.
German broadcaster Deutsche Welle closed its Moscow bureau at the start of this month after Russia shut the outlet’s local operations to punish Germany for banning a service of a Russian state TV network.
Israel will from Sunday allow entry to vaccinated visitors from low-risk countries, the health ministry said, five weeks after it shut its borders to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and a group of ministers agreed Monday that “entry of vaccinated/recovering tourists from ‘orange’ countries will be permitted” from Sunday, the ministry said in a statement.
Israel had closed its borders to all foreign tourists last November 28. Bennett said at the time the move aimed to prepare Israel for an inevitable fifth wave of Covid cases.
Last Sunday, Bennett said the temporary blanket prohibition on foreign arrivals had achieved its goal, even as domestic Covid infections have soared.
“This greatly delayed the entry of Omicron to the country,” he said.
“We bought time and we utilised it well,” the premier added, saying Israel had acquired significant stocks of the Pfizer antiviral drug Paxlovid.
Visitors will have to take a PCR or antigen test prior to boarding their flights and another PCR test when they arrive. They then have to quarantine for 24 hours or until receiving the result, the ministry said.
Israel prohibits its citizens to visit what it considers Covid high-risk countries, and tourists from those locations will not be allowed into the Jewish state.
As of Monday, Israel’s list of “red” countries included Britain, Ethiopia, Mexico, Switzerland, Tanzania, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States, according to the health ministry.
The ministry on Monday reported 6,562 new Covid infections, nearly double the daily average of last week. Almost 1.4 million Covid infections, including 8,244 deaths, have been officially recorded in Israel.
Israel on Sunday unveiled a plan to spend more than $300 million to double the Jewish settler population in the Golan Heights, 40 years after it annexed the territory captured from Syria.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who held his weekly cabinet meeting at the Mevo Hama community in the Golan on Sunday, vowed this was the “moment” to boost the number of Jewish Israelis living in the territory.
“Our goal is to double the population in the Golan,” the right-wing Bennett said as he presented his one billion shekel ($317 million) programme to improve housing, transportation, tourism and medical facilities in the area.
Around 25,000 Israeli settlers live in the Golan Heights, along with some 23,000 Druze, who remained on the land after it was seized by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Israel annexed the territory on December 14, 1981, in a move not recognised by most of the international community.
Former US president Donald Trump, widely viewed as pro-Israeli, granted US recognition to Israeli sovereignty over the Golan in 2019.
“It goes without saying that the Golan Heights is Israeli,” Bennett said Sunday, noting the Trump recognition and what he described as the “important” fact that President Joe Biden’s administration had “made it clear that there is no change in policy”.
Shortly after the Biden administration took office in January, Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested there were legal questions surrounding Trump’s move, which Syria condemned as a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty.
But Blinken indicated there was no thought of reversing course, especially amid the ongoing Syrian civil war.
Israel and Syria, which are still technically at war, are separated by a de facto border at the Golan Heights.
Bennett, who leads an ideologically disparate eight-party coalition, needs cabinet approval before his Golan plan can move forward.
Sunday’s meeting was temporarily delayed after the premier’s 14-year-old daughter tested positive for the coronavirus, sending Bennett into isolation, but a vote on the plan was still expected.
The European Parliament on Thursday sounded the alarm over “deep polarisation” in Slovenia, amid warnings on press freedom and judicial independence in the EU member state.
Lawmakers backed a resolution with 356 votes for and 284 against, saying they were “deeply concerned about the level of public debate, climate of hostility, distrust and deep polarisation in Slovenia, which has eroded trust in public bodies and between them”.
It said that “prominent public figures and politicians, including members of the government, have to lead by example and need to ensure a respectful and civilised public debate, free from intimidation, attacks, slurs and harassment”.
Slovenia’s right-wing Prime Minister Janez Jansa — whose country currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency — has faced repeated accusations of flouting democratic norms.
Last month, following pressure from the European Union, the authorities agreed to restore funding to the country’s sole news agency STA, suspended since December after Jansa’s conservative government criticised its reporting.
The resolution called on the government to ensure the funding going forward and to “cease all political interference and pressure” on the country’s public broadcaster.
Israel on Sunday decided to close its borders to foreign tourists and re-authorise a controversial cellphone tracking programme in a bid to stem the spread of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
“The entry of foreign nationals into Israel is banned except for cases approved by a special committee,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said in a statement, adding that the measure would take effect on Sunday evening.
Israeli citizens will be required to present a negative PCR test and quarantine themselves for three days if they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus and seven days if they have not.
It was only four weeks ago that Israel reopened its borders to foreign tourists after a prolonged closure due to Covid.
The measure were decided by a cabinet committee tasked with overseeing Israel’s Covid response.
Bennett’s government has also re-activated a controversial programme initiated under his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu early in the pandemic that allows the powerful Shin Bet internal security agency to track cellphones as a viral containment measure.
Tracking “will be in order to locate verified (Omicron) cases and thereby cut the chains of infection,” Bennett’s office said, adding the programme will take effect on Thursday.
The tracking “is restricted only to verified cases of the new strain.
“There will be no widespread and sweeping use for all verified cases as was done in previous waves,” it added, stressing the Shin Bet will also not monitor quarantine violations.
The Shin Bet tracking programme faced legal challenges from civil liberties groups after its introduction last year, before it was halted.
The government’s latest announcement came as Jews mark the start at sundown of the eight-day-long Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.
It already imposed a series of emergency measures late Friday to protect its heavily vaccinated population after identifying a case of the new Covid-19 variant.
The health ministry said the new strain that was first detected by South Africa was discovered in a person who had arrived from Malawi.
Other suspected cases are currently being traced, authorities have said.
Scientists in South Africa said on Thursday that they had detected the new B.1.1.529 variant — now dubbed Omicron — with at least 10 mutations, compared with two for Delta or three for Beta.
The strain was of “serious concern” and had been blamed for a surge in infections, the authorities in South Africa said.
It has also been detected in Botswana and Hong Kong among travellers from South Africa, as well as in Belgium.
The new variant “is concerning and has the potential to be very dangerous. We are raising a red flag,” Israeli Prome Minister Naftali Bennett said late Friday.
He said Israel would order 10 million PCR test kits.
Israel was one of the first countries to launch vaccines against the coronavirus last year, thanks to a deal with Pfizer that gave it access to millions of doses in exchange for data on the vaccine’s efficacy.
Its initial vaccine rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab was among the world’s fastest, and more than 5.7 million of the country’s nine million people are now fully vaccinated.