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Orban and Salvini unite against Macron at Italy talks in anti-migrant push

Marco Bertorello, AFP | Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (right) shakes hands with Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban following their meeting in Milan on August 28, 2018.

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, two of Europe's most vocal anti-migrant politicians, have vowed to work together to pursue a new hardline approach to migrants seeking to settle in the EU.

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Salvini, who is also Italy’s deputy prime minister, met for talks on Tuesday with the Hungarian leader in the northern Italian city of Milan, where several hundred people gathered to protest against their hardline policies.

The firebrand interior minister said he and Orban were working to create a future alliance "that excludes socialists and the left, that brings back to the centre the values and identity" that their respective political parties represent.

He added: "We are near a historic change on a continental level."

Orban, whose right-wing government has built a fence along Hungary's southern borders to keep out migrants, praised Salvini for being the first senior figure in Europe's Mediterranean countries to prove "migration can also be stopped by sea".

"Europe's security hinges on his (Salvini's) success," Orban told a joint news conference, describing the Italian minister as his “hero”.

While their respective parties belong to different factions in the European Parliament, Salvini and Orban said they had agreed to jointly pursue their anti-immigration agenda ahead of European elections in May next year.

Both criticised French President Emmanuel Macron, whom Orban described as "the leader of pro-migration parties in Europe today".

Italian divisions

The talks in Milan come after Italy's latest standoff with the EU on immigrants, which resulted in scores of migrants being held for days on a coastguard boat moored in Sicily as the government traded barbs with the bloc over who should take them in.

Salvini, 45, has vowed to close Italy's ports to ships that rescue people trying to cross into Europe by boat from Libya as Rome's populist government hardens its stance on immigration.

But his meeting with fellow hardliner Orban who has clashed repeatedly with the EU over the migrant crisis has exposed fractures in Italy's ruling coalition, which mixes Salvini's hard right League party and the populist Five-Star Movement.

Salvini's fellow Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio on Monday blasted Orban for putting up "barbed-wire barriers" and refusing to take in migrants.

"As far as I'm concerned countries that refuse allocation of migrants should not be entitled to European funding," Di Maio said in an interview with daily La Stampa.

At the Milan talks on Tuesday, Salvini noticeably refrained from criticising Orban for his refusal to take in asylum seekers, instead urging Macron to stop turning back migrants at France's border with Italy.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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