Attacks against black minister spark EU pact

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Cécile Kyenge said the attacks had "brought to light questions which appeared to have been resolved but are surfacing again." Photo: AFP
08:02 CEST+02:00
Top officials from 17 European nations signed a declaration on Monday against racism, showing support for Italy's first black minister Cécile Kyenge, the victim of a slurry of racist attacks.

"We have to defend European diversity and fight against racism," Belgium's deputy prime minister Joelle Milquet, who sponsored the initiative, told journalists at the unveiling of the "Rome Declaration".

"Across Europe, we are witnessing the advancement of far-right parties, some of which declare themselves openly, while others hide behind talk of national preference or the stigmatisation of foreigners," she said.

The declaration, which calls for a broader pact to fight racism ahead of the European elections in May 2014, was considered particularly urgent because the Kyenge attacks had been launched by politicians and risked ingraining a culture of abuse.

"What Cécile Kyenge has suffered is unacceptable," Milquet said at the meeting which brought representatives from all 17 nations.

The attacks against Congolese-born Kyenge, the first black minister to serve in Italy's cabinet, have ranged from a senior member of the far-right Northern League party likening her to an orangutan, to having bananas thrown at her and nooses hung in a town where she was due to speak.

Milquet said she had been spurred by the banana attack "to do something immediately to say 'that's enough, this is not acceptable'."

"I am very shocked, as a woman and a democrat, to see a legitimately-elected minister insulted in this way in 2013," she said.

Kyenge said the attacks had "brought to light questions which appeared to have been resolved but are surfacing again."

Italy's minister of integration insisted that racism must be understood as "going against Europe's democratic principles".

"The reality is, Europe is made up of people with different skin colours, who belong to different religions or were born elsewhere but have chosen to live here," Kyenge added.

Greece's interior minister Ioannis Michelakis underlined his country's engagement to fight "racism, xenophobia and discrimination."

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The government was committed to "crushing the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, behind which lurks a paramilitary-style criminal organisation," he said.

Michelakis called on his European colleagues to quickly intervene to tackle "the social malaise created by the crisis and spiralling unemployment."

The Rome Declaration, which said cross-state solidarity was key to tackling the populism reinforced by the economic crisis, called on EU member states and the European Commission to approve a "Pact 2014-2020 for a Europe of diversity and fight against racism.

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