Ship with 900 migrants on board docks in Sicily

France urges'cynical Italy to rethink stance on migrant ship

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.

Italy escalated its quarrel with France over migration Wednesday, challenging the bordering country to take in more asylum-seekers and demanding an apology after the French president accused the new Italian government of irresponsible behavior for refusing entry to a rescue ship with hundreds of migrants aboard.

"Such statements are undermining relations between Italy and France", Italy's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Macron later appealed for the two sides not to "give in to emotions that certain people are manipulating".

In a speech in the western French town of Mouchamps, he insisted that France was "working hand in hand with Italy" to handle migration.

France said it has received no formal request from Italy for an apology, and that it believed the planned meeting between Macron and Conte would go ahead.

With xenophobia on the rise across the continent and hard-right parties either in government or riding high in the polls from Italy in the south to Sweden on the north, immigration has become an issue of existential importance for the bloc.

Their talks are meant to focus on the contentious issue of migration.

This after the economy minister cancelled a meeting in Paris and the French ambassador to Italy was summoned over what the populists call "hypocritical lecturing" over the refusal to accept the Aquarius ship.

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France sought to take a more conciliatory tone on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz hailed cooperation between the hardline interior ministers of Austria, Germany and Italy on the question of migrants.

Salvini also demanded that France make good on its pledge to relocate migrants under a 2015 European Union scheme that never fully got off the ground.

More than 1.8 million migrants have entered Europe since 2014, and Italy is now sheltering more than 170,000 asylum seekers, as well as an estimated 500,000 unregistered migrants. The Aquarius, with some 600 people saved from the sea over the last few weeks, is sailing to Spain after the country agreed to welcome the ship.

France is "perfectly aware" of the pressure on Italy as it copes with an influx of migrants from Africa, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said.

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.

But he stressed that "the reason why Italy said it had closed ports is something we need to listen to".

The row centres on the charity ship Aquarius, which both Italy and Malta refused to let dock at their ports.

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