Italy, France tensions spiral over rejected migrant ship

Italy summoned France's envoy and angrily rejected French criticism of its immigration policies on Wednesday, escalating a diplomatic standoff between the neighbouring European powers.

Salvini said France had taken in only a fraction of the 9,816 migrants it had pledged to welcome under a 2015 European Union relocation plan to relieve frontline countries Italy and Greece of the burden of caring for newly arrived migrants.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, of the anti-immigrant League, has spearheaded a hardline stand on curbing arrivals from across the Mediterranean as a priority for the new populist coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

In his speech, Salvini shot back and said France had turned back 10,249 migrants at Italy's northern border since January "including women, children and disabled people".

The migrants aboard the Aquarius, run by French NGO SOS Mediterranee, were stuck on the overloaded ship as Italy and Malta bickered over who should take them.

"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". Salvini's League scored its best election result in March elections after pledging to deport an additional estimated 500,000 unregistered migrants.

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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.

But Italy's foreign minister, Enzo Moavero, kept up the barrage by telling a French envoy that Macron's comments were "unjustifiable" and had compromised bilateral relations.

Amid mounting cross-party concern that German asylum policy is in disarray, Seehofer, of the Bavarian conservative CSU party, met Austria's chancellor, Sebastian Kurz.

Many states have fallen short of their pledge, made in 2015, to take some asylum seekers from Italy and Greece - the first port of call for most migrants given their long Mediterranean coastlines - and share the cost of their care.

"I speak in the name of a government but I also have the ambition of speaking for a people who have nothing to learn from anyone about generosity, volunteerism, welcome and solidarity", he said.

"It's very clear that Europe needs to reform its asylum system in a collective manner; there's a lot of resistance to that but there's no other way", Grandi said. "Therefore I think that there must be many such kinds of cooperation, not just in this one direction". Meanwhile, an Italian coast guard ship with more than 900 migrants on board has docked this morning in the Sicilian port of Catania.

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