PARIS - France has summoned Italy’s ambassador to protest about comments by Italian Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, who accused Paris of continuing to colonize Africa and causing people to migrate from the continent, a government source told AFP.
The ambassador was summoned Monday after the “unacceptable and groundless” comments by Di Maio on Sunday, a source in the Cabinet of French Europe Minister Natalie Loiseau told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Di Maio made a series of incendiary remarks while visiting the Abruzzo region in central Italy, the latest sign of serious tensions between the populist government in Rome and France’s centrist leader, Emmanuel Macron.
“The EU should sanction France and all countries like France that impoverish Africa and make these people leave, because Africans should be in Africa, not at the bottom of the Mediterranean,” Di Maio said.
“If people are leaving today it’s because European countries, France above all, have never stopped colonizing dozens of African countries,” added the leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S), which governs alongside the far-right League party.
The International Organization for Migration said over the weekend that more than 100 people were feared missing after a boat carrying migrants capsized off the coast of Libya.
The Italian navy flew three survivors to the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa.
Italy has closed its ports to rescue boats operated by charities in the Mediterranean under a new hard-line approach to immigration.
After making comments criticizing the Italian government and its approach to immigration last year, Macron and the French government have since largely avoided entering into a war of words with Rome.
But relations between the two capitals, usually close EU allies, have deteriorated since the M5S-League coalition became the European Union’s first populist-only government in June last year.
Di Maio and fellow Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, from the League party, recently backed “yellow vest” protesters who have been demonstrating against Macron’s government since November.