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EU tensions flare over migrants as Macron blasts Italy

Karpov, SOS MEDITERRANEE, AFP | A handout picture taken on June 11, 2018 and released by the charity SOS Mediterranee shows rescued migrants aboard the French NGO's ship Aquarius, in the search and rescue zone in the Mediterranean sea.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday accused Italy of "cynicism and irresponsibility" over its refusal to take in hundreds of migrants stranded on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean.

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Macron told a cabinet meeting that under maritime law, "in cases of distress, those with the closest coastline have a responsibility to respond," spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said.

"If a boat had France as its closest coast, it could land," Griveaux said. "France has done its bit, but what is unacceptable is the behaviour and political instrumentalisation of the Italian government."

Successive Italian governments have accused their European partners of leaving the country to cope on its own with an influx of 700,000 migrants from Africa since 2013.

But Griveaux accused the new far-right/populist government in Rome of lacking solidarity after it refused to allow the migrant rescue boat Aquarius to land with more than 600 people on board.

"You can't create a precedent that will enable one European country to offload onto other European countries," he continued. "We need to show solidarity which Italy has not shown."

The new Italian government has pledged to deport hundreds of thousands of people living in the country illegally and stop boats carrying migrants from landing on its shores. Macron has faced criticism from some leftist opposition parties and members of his own Republic on the Move party for not offering to take in the 600 people on board the Aquarius.

Spain has offered to take them in, which Macron praised during the cabinet meeting.

A spokesman for Macron's Republic on the Move party earlier said the Italian government's policy was "sickening."

"The position, the line of the Italian government is sickening. It's unacceptable to play politics with human lives which is what is happening at the moment," Gabriel Attal told the Public Senat channel.

"I'm a spokesman for the party, not the government, but I can't imagine that France will not play a role in finding a humanitarian solution for this boat," he said.

'Hypocritical lessons' from France

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte hit back on Tuesday, accusing Paris of being hypocritical, cynical and rigid.

Conte's office issued an unusually toughly worded statement refuting comments from the top echelons of French government.

"The statements around the Aquarius affair that come from France are surprising and show a serious lack of knowledge about what is really happening. Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have always preferred to turn their
backs when it comes to immigration," Conte's office said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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