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Kyenge 'working against Italians', Northern League says

Black minister accuses anti-immigrant party of racism

16 January, 13:22
Kyenge 'working against Italians', Northern League says (ANSA) - Milan, January 16 - Northern League Secretary Matteo Salvini on Thursday defended his anti-immigration party's recent campaign against Congolese-born Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge, saying her actions were "working against Italians".

The League has been accused of racism and intimidation after its members targeted Italy's first black minister, including a senior party figure comparing her to an orangutan, and its newspaper La Padania published her daily schedule on Tuesday.

"Someone is working against unemployed Italians, against Italian income-deprived early retirees, against Italians on temporary redundancy who are paying her salary," said Salvini in reference to Kyenge, a representative of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) who was appointed in April 2013. The comments, made on morning radio, added fuel to the fire in ongoing debate over the role that race plays in politics as parliament debates whether decriminalise illegal immigration.

Kyenge, once an undocumented immigrant herself, has been at the forefront of the drive to repeal the current law.

The League has said its attacks on Kyenge are of a purely political nature.

"I hope many people support us because it is democracy that is at stake," said Salvini.

The party secretary added that to abolish the crime of illegal immigration - introduced in a 2001 law sponsored by the League - "would throw open Italy's doors even further".

If the criminalisation of illegal immigration has not deterred migrants from trying to reach Italy's shores it is because the law has not been applied, Salvini said.

Meanwhile, Kyenge on Thursday slammed the League's campaign as racist and called on her fellow politicians to intervene.

"I think the first thing that needs to be done, that politics needs to do is to call things by their proper name," said Kyenge, speaking on a separate radio programme. "This is racism. When instruments of democracy such as the press are used incorrectly democracy is in danger. We have gone beyond all limits", she continued.

"However, I will not back down. I was sworn in as minister to work in the service of my country. I am at the service of my country".