Macron apologises to Italy as row over migrant boat continues

UN:

The vessel is on its way to Valencia, Spain - following Italy's decision to close its ports to the migrants rescued this past weekend in the Mediterranean Sea.

French President Emmanuel Macron sought to defuse tension with Italy after it criticized its refusal to accept more than 600 migrants on board the Aquarius ship earlier this week, telling the Italian leader no offense was meant.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Macron are due to hold talks on Friday ahead of the European summit on at the end of the month, with a particular focus on migration.

French President Emmanuel Macron accused Italy's government of "cynicism and irresponsibility".

France and Italy traded insults, rifts widened in Germany's ruling coalition and Austria called for an "axis of the willing" to take action as a simmering row over how Europe should handle irregular migration finally boiled over. "Let them open their ports and we will transfer a few of the people to France", Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said. Rome says the rescue vessel's passengers never were in danger and argues that other European countries must share the work of welcoming would-be asylum-seekers.

Mr Salvini, the head of the far-right League party, said that France owed Italy an "official apology" over the migrant boat spat, adding that Mr Conte should cancel his Paris trip if Mr Macron did not retract his comments.

"Ships belonging to foreign organisations and flying foreign flags can not dictate Italy's immigration policy", Salvini, who also heads the anti-immigrant League party, said on Wednesday.

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Salvini has repeatedly accused fellow European Union members of abandoning Italy as it struggles to cope with migrants making the perilous journey from Africa across the Mediterranean.

This June 12, 2018 photo released Wednesday, June 13, 2018 by French NGO "SOS Mediterranee" shows migrants on the Aquarius ship after being rescued in the Mediterranean Sea.

The French government was more conciliatory Wednesday, when the Foreign Ministry said France recognized the burden Italy has carried.

More than 1.8 million people have entered Europe irregularly since 2014 and Italy is now sheltering some 170,000 asylum seekers.

An Italian coast guard ship carrying more than 900 Libyan migrants docked in Sicily Wednesday, just barely after the Rome government rejected entry to a boatload of others.

A government source said Conte still did not see the right "conditions" for a Friday meeting with Macron.

Under EU rules, migrants must apply for asylum in the European nation where they first arrive. In practice, the policy has placed a heavy burden on Italy and Greece, where hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers have arrived in recent years.

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