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EU tensions flare over migrants

China Daily | Updated: 2018-06-14 09:06
An Italian Coast Guard boat approaches the Aquarius ship as migrants are being transferred, in the Mediterranean Sea, on Tuesday. [Photo/Agencies]

PARIS/ROME-French President Emmanuel Macron blasted Italy on Tuesday for "irresponsibility" after it turned away a rescue boat carrying African migrants, exposing deep tensions in the European Union over the issue.

The decision by Italy to stop the Aquarius rescue boat landing on its shores at the weekend with 629 migrants on board has created the first serious clash between the country's new populist government and its EU partners.

During a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Macron accused Italy's leaders of "cynicism and irresponsibility" and said they had broken international maritime law by refusing the boat the right to dock.

"In cases of distress, those with the closest coastline have a responsibility to respond," spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said in unusually harsh criticism by Paris of its southern neighbor.

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

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte responded angrily.

"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.

Italy also received backing from Hungary's right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is a friend of Salvini and is known for his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

For years, Italy has pleaded with its EU partners for help with a massive influx of arrivals from Africa that has seen 700,000 people cross the Mediterranean and land in the country since 2013.

Under existing rules, countries where migrants first arrive are required to process their asylum requests, placing the burden on Italy in particular, as well as fellow southern countries Greece and Spain.

EU leaders have set an end-of-June deadline for an overhaul of these so-called "Dublin rules", but talks have been deadlocked for two years and there is little sign of a breakthrough.

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