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FILE PHOTO: A general view of the La Scala theatre before the season opening in Milan, Italy December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo/File Photo

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy’s deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, urged Milan’s La Scala opera house on Monday to reject an offer from Saudi Arabia to pump funds into the theater.

The Saudi culture ministry has offered a five-year partnership deal with La Scala worth 15 million euros ($17 million).

The proposal has set off a furious row, with human rights groups and some politicians arguing that one of Italy’s most prestigious cultural institutions should shun money from Saudi Arabia, a deeply conservative Muslim kingdom accused of repeated rights abuses.

Salvini told reporters he did not want the partnership to go ahead.

“I would prefer for some people not to be there and for La Scala to be free, independent and autonomous,” he said. “If the Swiss want to invest in La Scala, we would not have a problem.”

It is the second time this year that Salvini, who heads the far-right League party, has taken aim at Saudi Arabia.

In January he condemned as “disgusting” restrictions imposed on women hoping to see the final of the Italian Supercoppa, which was staged at the start of the year in Saudi.

The La Scala board is due to discuss the Saudi proposal at a meeting on March 18.

($1 = 0.8900 euros)

Reporting by Sara Rossi; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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