League party leader Matteo Salvini was met by counter protesters as he attended a rally supporting their Emilia-Romagna regional election candidate Lucia Borgonzoni in Bibbiano on Thursday, ahead of Sunday's regional elections.

"We will do everything humanly possible so that from tomorrow onwards there is justice. And that Bibbiano will be known in the world not for the stolen children but for the beauty of the people who live here," Salvini said before telling his supporters he was sorry "if a few meters away there will be people here making polemics. Because the good of children should unite all women and men of goodwill."

Salvini’s comments were in reference to a scandal that emerged in Bibbiano, where some of the commune's social workers would press for children to be taken into state care, even if the situation would have allowed rehabilitation inside the family. The League railed against Bibbiano's ruling party, calling it an administrative scandal.

Supporters of the Sardines political grassroots movement in Bibbiano gathered nearby to protest the League's alleged politicisation of scandal.

"The moment in which a judicial case is instrumentalized for electoral purposes, a community of people is fed to the media machinery we know and it is not right," said Sardines movement founder Mattia Santori.

"Salvini has instrumentalized fear and a scandal that absolutely does not apply to the administration but to single individuals," a Sardine supporter added.

Historically left-leaning Emilia-Romagna region will elect its president on January 26. Recent polling shows current leader Stefano Bonaccini neck and neck with his Liga rival Lucia Borgonzoni.

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