Italy summons French envoy as migration row escalates

The M5S-League government says that current European Union rules, which require migrants to seek asylum wherever in Europe they first arrive, leave Italy and its southern neighbours bearing the brunt of mass migration across the Mediterranean.

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.

"The statements concerning Aquarius from France are surprising", the Italian Council stressed, adding that Rome won't tolerate receiving "hypocritical lessons from countries that preferred to divert the head "on the migrant crisis".

France sought to take a more conciliatory tone on Wednesday.

The Aquarius and two Italian ships that have taken some of the migrants are now expected to arrive in Valencia on Saturday night, weather conditions permitting, said SOS Mediterranee's co-founder Sophie Beau.

Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi summoned the ambassador to a morning meeting "following the statements made yesterday in Paris on the Aquarius affair", his ministry said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

In Germany, the hardline interior minister, Horst Seehofer, pulled out of an integration summit hosted by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, saying Berlin should cooperate with Vienna and Rome in combating illegal immigration.

The International Organisation for Migration on Tuesday warned against the closing of borders in the bloc.

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Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Wednesday that without an "official apology" from France, a planned meeting between Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday should be cancelled.

But the talks were delayed as both countries traded barbs over the fate of more than 600 migrants rescued off the Libyan coast on the weekend.

Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S) that makes up Italy's new government alongside the League, minister of labour and, with Salvini, joint deputy prime minister, said that it was "embarrassing" that France "preached to us" as Italy is asking its European partners to share duties with Italy.

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

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

Salvini has accused European aid groups of essentially operating taxi services for Libya-based human traffickers, and has said Italy will now refuse them entry.

The Diciotti ship arrived at the port of Catania and the migrants began to disembark, an AFP photographer saw. "The coastguard and navy can continue to save lives, but other countries need to keep giving us a hand", he said.

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