France summons Italian envoy over ‘hostile’ Africa remarks | World news


France’s foreign ministry has summoned the Italian ambassador in an escalating row over migrant arrivals in Europe that pits the centrist government of Emmanuel Macron against Italy’s far-right-populist coalition.

Teresa Castaldo was summoned over “hostile” remarks made by the Italian deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio.

Di Maio, who leads the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), told a rally in the central Abruzzo region on Sunday: “If today people are leaving Africa is it because some European countries, with France taking the lead, have never stopped colonising tens of African states?”

He called on the EU to sanction France for “impoverishing Africa” and for migrants to be taken to the southern French port of Marseille instead of Italy. An estimated 170 people were feared to have drowned in the Mediterranean in two incidents at the weekend as they tried to make their way to Europe from Libya.

Sources told the Ansa news agency the remarks were “hostile and without cause given the partnership between France and Italy in the European Union”.

This is the latest fight Italy has picked against France since M5S came to power in coalition with the far-right League last June.

Di Maio has never quite forgiven the French president, Emmanuel Macron, for speaking about “populist leprosy” in a reported criticism of the Italian government shortly after it was formed. Earlier this month, he urged France’s gilets jaunes, who have held several violent anti-government protests since early December, to “not give up”.

Italy also summoned the French ambassador after Macron criticised Italy for “cynicism and irresponsibility” when the country’s leaders turned away a migrant rescue ship with more than 600 people onboard weeks after coming to power.

Italy’s far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, added fuel to the fire on Tuesday morning, saying France was not looking to bring calm to violence-ravaged Libya because its energy interests there rivalled those of Italy.








The Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, said on Tuesday: ‘There are countries that steal wealth from Africa and France is definitely one of them.’ Photograph: Salvatore Esposito/Barcroft Media

“There are countries that steal wealth from Africa and France is definitely one of them,” Salvini said on Italian TV. “France has no interest in making Libya a better place. Paris is interested in taking control of the oil there. And their interests are opposed to the Italian ones. I’m proud to govern a generous country. We don’t take lessons on humanity from France, let alone from Macron.

“In recent years, France turned back thousands of migrants, including women and children. They took them back to Italy in the middle of the night, like animals. Again, I don’t take lesson from Macron.”

A French diplomatic source told Reuters it was not the first time that Salvini had made such comments and that it was probably because he felt he had been upstaged by Di Maio. The source added that the accusation was baseless and reiterated that French efforts in Libya were aimed at stabilising the country, preventing the spread of terrorism and curbing the migration flows.

Both Salvini and Di Maio are campaigning hard for European parliamentary elections in May and are eager to show they have broken with the consensual politics of centre-left and centre-right parties. The two men have repeatedly targeted neighbouring France and accused the French president of doing nothing to help handle the hundreds of thousands of mainly African migrants who have reached Italy from Libya in recent years.

Additional reporting by Lorenzo Tondo in Palermo

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