Italy summons French envoy as migration dispute escalates

"The statements concerning Aquarius from France are surprising", the Italian Council stressed, adding that Rome won't tolerate receiving "hypocritical lessons from countries that preferred to divert the head "on the migrant crisis".

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

According to the latest figures, around 7000 migrants are stranded in Serbia.

The French government was more conciliatory Wednesday, when the Foreign Ministry said France recognized the burden Italy has carried.

This prompted Rome to accuse the French leader of hypocrisy and threaten to cancel a summit between Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte slated to take place Friday.

Mr Macron had suggested Italy's new leadership was attempting to make a high-profile break with previous governments in refusing to take in the ship, instead of dealing with underlying issues such as development and security in the migrants' home countries. Spain stepped up and offered the Aquarius safe harbour in Valencia after Italy and Malta both refused.

As well as summoning France's ambassador on Wednesday, Italy's finance minister Giovanni Tria cancelled a meeting with his counterpart in Paris and its interior minister said Italy had "nothing to learn about generosity, voluntarism, welcoming, and solidarity from anyone".

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Austria's conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who since December has led a coalition government with the anti-migration Freedom Party, proposed the idea Wednesday of an "axis of the willing" - made up of Rome, Vienna and Berlin - to co-operate in tackling illegal immigration.

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 also accused France of having turned back 10,249 migrants at Italy's northern border since January, "including women, children and disabled people".

He has accused charities of working with human traffickers but said Italy would not stop rescuing migrant boats itself. German aid group Sea-Watch said the migrants were picked up after their rubber dinghy sank and the Navy also had recovered the bodies of 12 people.

Salvini earlier underlined that Italy's ports would no longer be open to foreign boats carrying migrants.

While acknowledging that the controversial European Union quota system - which would have seen illegal immigrants arriving to the bloc forced on unwilling nations - was "a failure", the UN figure insisted: "Unless Europe goes back to this notion of sharing the burden, we will not get out of this situation". In practice, the policy has placed a heavy burden on Italy and Greece, where hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers have arrived in recent years.

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