Ship with 900 migrants on board docks in Sicily

Ship with 900 migrants on board docks in Sicily

Angrily rejecting French criticism of its immigration policies, Italy summoned the French ambassador on Wednesday and cancelled a planned meeting between the Italian economy minister and his counterpart in Paris.

An Italian Navy ship carrying more than 900 migrants docked on Wednesday morning in Catania, Sicily, further intensifying the pressure on Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who has made cracking down on migration and "closing the ports" a top government priority.

Spain offered to welcome migrants aboard the Aquarius rescue ship after Italy and Malta refused to take them in.

"The visit was canceled at Italy's request, and we regret it", the French source said, adding France had a lot of ground to cover with newly-appointed Tria.

French President Emmanuel Macron criticized what he called Italy's cynicism and irresponsibility in turning away the Aquarius, which is operated by SOS Mediterranee and the French-founded Doctors Without Borders.

The office of Finance Minister Giovanni Tria confirmed Wednesday's meeting with Bruno Le Maire had been scrapped.

Italy's deputy prime minister called for an official apology before any further summits.

In his speech, Salvini shot back and said France had turned back 10,249 migrants at Italy's northern border since January "including women, children and disabled people".

"Our history of solidarity, humanity and welcoming spirit does not deserve to be criticised by members of the French government".

The episode, coming a week after the installation of Italy's new anti-establishment government, has heightened tensions within the European Union over migration. Italian maritime vessels, however, are still docking in its ports. "After the refusal of Malta to allow the people aboard the Aquarius to disembark there, we received an unprecedented gesture of solidarity from Spain".

"Such statements are undermining relations between Italy and France", Italy's foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

Macron initially did not respond to questions on the issue, but later told reporters: "We must never give in to emotions, which some people manipulate".

The chancellor said migration represented a significant challenge for Europe when it was in a "very fragile situation".

It would also represent a complete reversal of the open-doors migrant policy she adopted in 2015, which saw more than 1 million migrants enter Germany and is seen as having fuelled a sharp rise in support for the rightwing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and caused deep rifts within her conservative bloc.

The case touched on one of the main faultlines in European politics - how to share the responsibility of handling migrants trying to get into the bloc from war zones and poor countries, largely across Africa and the Middle East.

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