Italy, France tensions spiral over rejected migrant ship

Italian Infrastructure minister Danilo Toninelli

Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had suggested that a planned meeting between the leaders of the two countries should be cancelled if France did not issue an "official apology".

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

"It is shameful. As a European, I felt shame - shame - that there was a boat - there is a boat - in the Mediterranean, and for several days nobody wanted to take these people", he said Wednesday, as the migrant-packed vessel rejected by Italy was on its way to Spain.

Italy's new Economy Minister Giovanni Tria meanwhile announced he was cancelling a meeting with his French counterpart Bruno le Maire in Paris.

Earlier in the day, the Italian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the French ambassador to complain that the French comments about the Aquarius were "unacceptable".

She noted that Italy did not feel it was receiving sufficient support from other European Union states.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz on Wednesday hailed cooperation between the hardline interior ministers of Austria, Germany and Italy on the issue.

"It's a relief for everyone, our teams and of course above all for the survivors, to know that they are finally allowed to head to a safe port in Europe", Beau told reporters in Marseille, France.

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The furore comes after President Macron blasted Rome on Tuesday for closing its port to a ship with 629 migrants on board from attempting to enter the country.

How Europe should share the responsibility of handling migrants trying to get into the bloc from war zones and poor countries, largely across Africa and the Middle East, remains a vexed question.

He said that between January and May, France had sent 10,249 migrants back to Italy.

Italy's rejection of a migrant ship is shameful but the responsibility lies with Europe as a whole, United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi told Reuters on Wednesday.

He demanded that France move from "words to action and offer a sign of generosity" by taking more in.

"As a European I feel ashamed that there is a boat roaming around the sea", UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi told reporters in Geneva.

On Wednesday morning, an Italian coast guard vessel with 937 migrants and two bodies aboard docked in Catania, Sicily, while the Aquarius headed into increasingly rough seas on its way to Valencia, where it is due to arrive on Saturday. We need to talk to Italy, this is a big partner, a big neighbor...

Grandi, an Italian national himself, pointed out that Italy had taken the brunt of the massive numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya towards Europe in recent years.

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