Italy and France trade insults as migration row boils over

Italy Summons French Envoy After Macron Blasts Refusal to Accept Migrant Ship

Italy's argument with France came after Macron on Tuesday blasted what he called Italy's cynicism and irresponsibility in turning away the Aquarius.

Economy Minister Giovanni Tria spoke with his French counterpart after cancelling his meeting, a French finance ministry official said, and both agreed to reschedule their session in coming days.

Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi asked to see the diplomat "following the statements made yesterday in Paris", a ministry statement said on Wednesday.

But Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini - leader of Lega, the anti-migrant party which formed a coalition with Conte's Five Star Movement - said he wanted an apology from the French President.

Mr Macron had suggested Italy's new leadership was attempting to make a high-profile break with previous governments in refusing to take in the ship, instead of dealing with underlying issues such as development and security in the migrants' home countries.

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The vessel, run by charity organizations, was denied port entry also by Malta, and was eventually offered to dock in Spain.

Spain finally ended the deadlock Monday by saying the ship could land at its port of Valencia, with its arrival expected later this week.

Macron and new Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte were scheduled to meet in Paris on Friday, but Italian news agency ANSA said Wednesday the meeting might be postponed because the conditions weren't right.

"We have to have predictable arrangements, so that rescue boats know where to go", Grandi said, warning that "otherwise, this [could be] a disincentive to rescue, [and] people may lose their lives if this doesn't happen". The minister said that France has taken only 340 of the 9,816 migrants who were meant to be relocated there in three years.

The line Italy drew with the Aquarius appeared to be a tactic by the populist government sworn in this month to force Europe's hand at a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels set for June 28-29.

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More than 900 people have arrived at the Italian port of Catania in Sicily after being rescued at sea by the Italian Coast Guard.

Salvini earlier underlined that Italy's ports would no longer be open to foreign boats carrying migrants.

Under the EU's asylum laws - now the subject of revision amid a major political dispute - migrants must apply for asylum in the country where they first enter Europe.

Branding Italy's decision to close its ports to a boat of 629 migrants "shameful", United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi demanded European Union (EU) countries make it as easy as possible for open borders-backing NGOs to continue ferrying immigrants from Africa to Europe. German aid group Sea-Watch said the migrants were picked up after their rubber dinghy sank and the Navy also had recovered the bodies of 12 people.

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