Four-country migrant ship standoff escalates as Italy demands apology from France

Viktor Orban

"Following yesterday's the statements of Paris over the Aquarius issue, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Enzo Moavero Milanesi summoned the ambassador of France to Italy to the foreign ministry this morning", the Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Italy's deputy prime minister called for an official apology before any further summits.

A day after French President Emmanuel Macron said Rome had acted with "cynicism and irresponsibility" by closing its ports to a migrant ship, Italy's economy minister cancelled a Paris meeting with his counterpart, and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte weighed postponing a meeting with Macron scheduled for Friday.

But earlier, Italy's foreign ministry warned that relations had been compromised by France's public criticism that Italy's decision to refuse entry to the migrant ship Aquarius had been "cynical" and irresponsible.

"Our history of solidarity, humanity and welcoming spirit does not deserve to be criticised by members of the French government".

Matteo Salvini on Wednesday.

"Nothing said by France has questioned this, nor the need to coordinate closely among Europeans", a spokesperson said.

Salvini, the leader of the far-right, anti-immigration League party, blocked the Aquarius from entering Italian ports this weekend, prompting an worldwide outcry.

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France tried to take a more conciliatory tone on Wednesday.

Speaking to the senate Salvini said "he hoped for an official apology as soon as possible", from France.

Some 629 migrants, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, have been in the central Mediterranean since Sunday aboard the Aquarius, a vessel operated by SOS Méditerranée, a Franco-German charity that tries to rescue people making the risky crossing to Europe.

"I'm pleased that they [France] have discovered responsibility. Let them open their ports and if they want we can send them a few people", he told reporters on Tuesday. Italy for years has complained that it has been left largely alone to manage Europe's migrant crisis, but the new government says its tactics have finally gotten the point across.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has drawn criticism from her own conservative party for her open-door migrant policy, adopted in 2015, which also provoked a rise in support for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party.

READ ALSO: What rules apply to migrants rescued at sea?

Yet Slovakia's premier insisted that "we refuse to let migrants enter our country", a stance that could bring him into conflict with Italy's new leaders, who have called for the automatic, compulsory resettlement of migrants across all European Union countries. Kurz said Europe needed an "axis of the willing in the fight against illegal migration".

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