France, Italy leaders meet Friday amid clash over migration

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Italy has received both criticism and praise for turning away the Aquarius rescue ship over the weekend as it made its way across the Mediterranean Sea carrying 629 migrants.

A day after French President Emmanuel Macron said Rome had acted with "cynicism and irresponsibility" by closing its ports to a migrant ship, Italy's economy minister cancelled a Paris meeting with his counterpart, and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte weighed postponing a meeting with Macron scheduled for Friday. Muscat highlighted however that Malta was willing to help avoid humanitarian crises.

The Aquarius will now dock in Valencia, which is 800 miles from where the ship had been stranded.

Macron's comments sparked a fierce response from Rome, which called them "unacceptable" and summoned France's ambassador Wednesday.

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"I am happy about the good cooperation that we want to develop between Rome, Vienna and Berlin - I think it marks very sensible cooperation that will contribute to reducing illegal migration to Europe", said Kurz, whose country assumes the EU's rotating presidency on July 1.

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.

The line Italy drew with the Aquarius appeared to be a tactic by the populist government sworn in this month to force Europe's hand at a summit of European Union leaders in Brussels set for June 28-29.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was to brief Parliament later Wednesday on the situation as the Aquarius and its 629 passengers continued its dayslong, westward voyage to Spain.

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But he stressed that "the reason why Italy said it had closed ports is something we need to listen to".

On Wednesday morning, an Italian coast guard vessel with 937 migrants aboard docked in Catania, Sicily, as the Aquarius headed into increasingly rough seas on its way to Valencia, where it is due to arrive on Saturday.

"It is shameful. As a European, I felt shame - shame - that there was a boat - there is a boat - in the Mediterranean, and for several days nobody wanted to take these people", he said Wednesday, as the migrant-packed vessel rejected by Italy was on its way to Spain. "[Conte's] visit is now neither confirmed nor canceled, but we would like him to arrive", Loiseau told Europe 1 radio.

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. The Spanish authorities then said they were ready to let the Aquarius dock in its eastern port. Some countries feel justified in stopping migrants from entering when they should have registered elsewhere.

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