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EU Commission says will not bow to Italian threat on migration

By Thompson ABISOLA

The European Commission said on Friday it will follow rules governing migration, rather than bow to threats, such as made by an Italian minister to distribute migrants, held on a coast guard ship in Sicily.

Deputy Prime Minister, Luigi Maio, said Italy will take a “hard line” to withhold EU funds at a meeting with the Commission and envoys from a dozen member states in Brussels to discuss disembarkation from the ship Diciotti.

“Finding a solution for the people on board is our main priority. That is what we are focused on and that is what we think everybody else should be focused on,’’ Commission spokesman, Alexander Winterstein, said at a news conference.

“Let’s not engage in finger-pointing. We also believe unconstructive comments, let alone threats, are not helpful and will not get us any closer to a solution. The EU is a community of rules and it operates on the basis of rules, not threats,’’ he continued.

“Let’s not engage in finger-pointing. Threats are not helpful and will not get us any closer to a solution.’’

Similarly, some 150 migrants, who are not being allowed to disembark from an Italian coast guard boat in Sicily, have started a hunger strike, an opposition senator said on Friday.

“I have just heard from the Port Authority that there is tension aboard the #Diciotti ship and that migrants have started a hunger strike,’’ Davide Faraone of the Democratic Party, wrote on Twitter.

“As a result, visits aboard to express solidarity and verify conditions on the boat have been suspended for security reasons.’’

One hundred and ninety migrants were rescued more than a week ago by the Diciotti on Monday. Thirteen, needing medical assistance, were taken onshore while the remaining 177 were taken to Catania.

Under pressure from humanitarian groups, Italy’s hard-line Interior Minister and Deputy Premier, Matteo Salvini, let 27 children disembark on Wednesday.

He said, however, that the remaining migrants would be kept aboard until other EU nations take them in.

It is the latest in a series of diplomatic spats over boats picking up migrants, trying to reach European shores from northern Africa.

The solution to the Diciotti situation “is a nice plane arriving in Catania airport from one of the European capitals’’ to pick up the migrants, Salvini told Corriere della Sera daily.

A meeting was due to take place in Brussels on Friday among negotiators from 12 member states, with the aim of finding a long-term solution to the migrant rescue problem.

An EU spokesman declined on Thursday to name which countries are participating, but said the meeting is open to anyone “interested in a European solution’’.

Maio said on Thursday that if ‘nothing comes out’ of the Brussels talks, Italy should block payments into the EU budget.


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