France's Macron told Italy's Conte no offense meant on migrants

Italian Infrastructure minister Danilo Toninelli

Italian Infrastructure minister Danilo Toninelli

Diverting the rescue ship to Spain - some four days' away, with poor weather forecast - keeps the Aquarius away from the area where its search-and-rescue capacity is most needed, in global waters off the Libyan coast, putting other lives at risk.

Italy earlier this week demanded an apology from Macron after the French president accused Italy's populist government of "cynicism and irresponsibility" over its decision to close the country's ports to a vessel carrying more than 600 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

"The French president emphasized that he never said anything meant to offend Italy and the Italian people", Macron's office said in a statement on Thursday. Spain finally granted the boat permission to dock in Valencia.

Italy postponed high-level talks with France Wednesday after Paris blasted Rome for its "nauseating" refusal to take in a migrant rescue ship, in a major diplomatic spat.

The meeting, scheduled for Friday in Paris, was jeopardized on Wednesday, after the French president slammed Italian government for a "cynical" response to the migrant ship crisis.

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Under the EU's asylum laws - now the subject of revision amid a major political dispute - migrants must apply for asylum in the country where they first enter Europe.

Kurz said Europe needed an "axis of the willing in the fight against illegal migration".

"With my German and Austrian colleagues. we will propose a new (immigration) initiative", Salvini said, adding that it would apply both to the EU's external borders and to how the bloc's countries manage migrants internally.

United Nations refugee chief Filippo Grandi urged the European Union on Wednesday to sort out its "shameful" refugee policy after both Italy and Malta turned away a ship carrying hundreds of migrants.

Italian maritime vessels, however, are still docking in its ports: on Wednesday, an Italian coast guard vessel docked in Catania, Sicily with 932 migrants aboard. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said France was "fully aware of the burden that the migration pressure is placing on Italy" and that it was committed to cooperating with Rome on immigration.

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Salvini also accused France of having turned back 10,249 migrants at Italy's northern border since January, "including women, children and disabled people".

Salvini has accused charities that rescue migrants of working with human traffickers but said Italy would not stop rescuing migrant boats itself.

Grandi, an Italian national himself, pointed out that Italy had taken the brunt of the massive numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya towards Europe in recent years.

More than 1.8 million migrants have entered Europe since 2014.

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