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Italy Vows Migrant Ship Cannot Dock As Paris-Rome Clash Escalates

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Italy said on Wednesday its decision to shut its ports to hundreds of migrants aboard a charity ship was firm, as a clash between Rome and Paris over migrant policy heated up.

Boat

"We will not change [our position] on ships belonging to non-governmental organizations," Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said.

"Ships belonging to foreign organizations and flying foreign flags cannot dictate Italy's immigration policy," said Salvini, who is also head of the anti-immigrant League.

Since Sunday, when both Italy and Malta refused to let them dock, some 629 migrants, including 11 children and seven pregnant women, have been in the central Mediterranean aboard the Aquarius.

Some of the migrants on the overcrowded Aquarius, who are mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, were moved onto two Italian ships from the navy and coastguard and are headed for the port of Valencia, Spain.

The episode, coming a week after the installation of Italy's new populist government, has heightened tensions within the European Union over migration.

While Spain adopted a diplomatic tone with Italy when it announced it would take the migrants, relations between Rome and Paris deteriorated in an explosion of accusations and counter-accusations.

French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the decision to block the Aquarius, operated by the Franco-German charity SOS Mediterranne, saying international law obligated Italy to take in the migrants.

"There is a degree of cynicism and irresponsibility in the Italian government's behavior with regard to this dramatic humanitarian situation," government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux quoted Macron as telling his cabinet.

Gabriel Attal, a spokesman for Macron's party, told Public Senat TV: "The Italian position makes me vomit."

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who is due to meet Macron in Paris this Friday, shot back.

"Italy cannot accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have always preferred to turn their backs when it comes to immigration," Conte said in a statement.

The situation escalated on Wednesday morning when Rome's foreign ministry summoned the French ambassador for an explanation of Macron's comments.

Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team

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