Italy threatens to cancel Conte-Macron meet unless France apologises

Italy's rejection of a migrant ship is shameful but the responsibility lies with Europe as a whole, United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi told Reuters on Wednesday. Mr Salvini said he plans to visit his conservative German counterpart in Berlin soon to hammer out new proposals on the boat row and the broader issue of migrant quotas.

Salvini called on France to apologise and said he was not prepared to take criticism from a country that regularly stopped migrants on their shared border.

The dispute began when French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday denounced the "cynicism and irresponsibility of the Italian government" for its handling of the Aquarius migrant rescue ship earlier this week.

France tried to take a more conciliatory tone on Wednesday.

More than 900 people have arrived at the Italian port of Catania in Sicily after being rescued at sea by the Italian Coast Guard.

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.

The spokesman for his En Marche party described Italy's migrant policy as "sickening" The NGO-run ship is now in its way to Valencia after Spain agreed to offer a port of safety, although Madrid said Rome's refusal to accept the Aquarius was potentially a criminal case.

Salvini has accused European aid groups of essentially operating taxi services for Libya-based human traffickers and said Italy will now refuse their rescue ships entry.

Since migrant delivery NGOs stepped up their activities in the Mediterranean, over the past few years Italy has been burdened with approximately half a million illegal immigrants whose crime rate has been found to be significantly higher than that of native Italians, according to a study by Italy's largest business association.

Macron's comments sparked a fierce response from Rome, which called them "unacceptable" and summoned France's ambassador Wednesday. Macron's office said Tuesday that France doesn't want to "start a precedent" that would allow some European countries to breach global laws and rely on other EU member states to take in migrants.

It added that Italy was waiting for French to take action to "heal the situation that has been created".

"With my German and Austrian colleagues. we will propose a new (immigration) initiative", Salvini said, adding that it would apply both to the EU's external borders and to how the bloc's countries manage migrants internally.

That has put pressure on Italy and Greece, the entry points for the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty.

The U.N. refugee agency has said that approximately 1,900 migrants came to Cyprus in about 40 boat trips since 2015.

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