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France, Italy leaders meet Friday amid clash over migration

France, Italy leaders meet Friday amid clash over migration

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told Wednesday's Corriere Della Sera newspaper that ships belonging to foreign organisations and flying foreign flags could not dictate Italy's immigration policy.

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

France, she said, had also taken the second-biggest share of migrants relocated from Greece and Italy.

Italy's new Economy Minister Giovanni Tria meanwhile announced he was cancelling a meeting with his French counterpart Bruno le Maire in Paris.

Macron's office said Tuesday that France doesn't want to "start a precedent" that would allow some European countries to breach worldwide laws and rely on other EU member states to take in migrants.

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.

Sophie Beau said Wednesday in a news conference in Marseille, France, "it's a relief for everyone, our teams and of course above all for the survivors to know that they are finally allowed to head to a safe port in Europe".

European Union leaders in December set an end-June deadline for an overhaul of rules to create a permanent mechanism to deal with migrants.

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Salvini has repeatedly vowed to stem the flow of migrants to Italy, which has seen more than 700,000 arrive on its shores since 2013.

How Europe should 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, remains a vexed question.

Macron said Rome had acted "with cynicism and irresponibility" by turning away the migrant ship Aquarius.

He demanded that France move from "words to action and offer a sign of generosity" by taking more in.

Salvini has accused European aid groups of essentially operating taxi services for Libya-based human traffickers, and has said Italy will now refuse their rescue ships entry.

The U.N. refugee agency's chief, Italian national Filippo Grandi, told Reuters it was "shameful" that two European countries refused to take in vulnerable migrants.

The Spanish port of Valencia's spokesperson told Sputnik on Wednesday that the rescue vessel, as well as Italian Coast Guard and naval ships, carrying over 600 migrants, could enter the Spanish port of Valencia late on Saturday.

But he stressed that "the reason why Italy said it had closed ports is something we need to listen to". It was carrying 629 migrants and is now heading to Spain, escorted by two Italian ships.