Italy demands French apology but Macron says Rome 'provoked'

Tria scrubs Le Maire meet, Moavero says French tone unacceptable

(ANSA) - Rome, June 13 - The Italian government on Wednesday called on Paris to apologise for its criticism of Italy's handling of the case of the Aquarius migrant-rescue ship but French President Emmanuel Macron accused Rome of "provoking" him in the case.

Premier Giuseppe Conte said he was "leaning towards" scrubbing a Friday visit to see Macron in Paris.

    Meanwhile, Economy Minister Giovanni Tria cancelled a meeting with his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire while Foreign Minister Enrico Moavero Milanesi summoned the French ambassador and said French statements had been "unacceptable". French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday called Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini "cynical and irresponsible" in refusing to allow the Aquarius to offload 629 migrants at an Italian port at the weekend.
    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.
    "We have nothing to learn from anyone in terms of solidarity," Salvini, who is also deputy premier and leader of the League party, told the Senate.
    "Our history does not deserve to be reproached in these terms by members of the French government, who I hope apologise.
    "Macron should go from words to deeds and tomorrow morning receive the 9,000 migrants he committed to receiving". The minister said that France has taken only 340 of the 9,816 migrants who were meant to be relocated there in three years.
    "France says that we are cynical but between January 1 and May 31 it turned back 10,249 people at the border, including women and disabled children," Salvini said.
    Foreign Minister Moavero Milanesi summoned the French envoy in Rome and said that the "tones used" in Paris's criticism of the handling of the Aquarius case were "unacceptable". "Similar statements are compromising relations between Italy and France," he said, adding that Paris should take action to "rectify the situation". "The Italian government hopes Paris takes initiatives promptly," Moavero said. Le Maire expressed sorrow about the scrubbed meeting.
    "Italian Finance Minister Giovanni Tria's visit has been cancelled and we express sadness," Le Maire said. "There are many important issues to discuss with Tria, in particular in view of the European Council at the end of June". Le Maire added that Tria "will come to Paris in the coming days".
    Macron, for his part, said he could not apologise for criticising Italy's hardline migrant stance in rejecting rescue ship Aquarius, saying "I can't say those who provoke are right".
    Macron said "who is seeking provocation? Who is saying 'I'm stronger than the democrats and I'll push away a boat I see arriving on my shores'? Let's not forget who is talking to us...We won't forget it because we too have something to do with those very same people". Macron spoke without actually naming Salvini.
    Macron said that "we have been working (with Italy) in an exemplary way for a year, we have reduced to a tenth the (migrant) landings thanks to work with Italy, in the Sahel". He said this had been "active, constant, constructive work, work without let-up by France which, since last summer up to a few days ago on Libya, has come to the fore in partnership with Italy".
    The Libyan navy said that Italy had "finally woken up" in banning the Aquarius from landing. "Thank God Italy has finally woken up" and "we are very happy about this decision" said Libyan Navy spokesman Ayob Amr Ghasem, answering a question on the Aquarius case. "In the end Italy took a decision, in the end it woke up after being for a long time at the centre of an outpouring of migrants on the part of the world", he told ANSA on the phone.