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POLITICS

France and Italy wrangle over migrant ship with 234 people on board

France denounced as "unacceptable" Italy's refusal to take in a migrant ship, as the two countries wrangled over which should accept a vessel with 234 people aboard.

France and Italy wrangle over migrant ship with 234 people on board
The NGO SOS Mediteranee's rescue ship Ocean Viking Photo by NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP

The row centres on the Ocean Viking, a charity ship which has sailed away from Sicilian waters toward France after unsuccessfully waiting for permission to dock in Italy since late October.

Run by European charity SOS Mediterranée under a Norwegian flag, the ship appealed to France to accept it and it was expected to approach Corsica by Thursday.

A diplomatic row over its fate was building on Tuesday after Italy’s new right-wing Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni thanked France for opening a port to the Ocean Viking – in anticipation of any confirmation, or denial, by France.

On Wednesday French government spokesman Olivier Véran branded Italy’s refusal to allow the ship to dock as “unacceptable.”

“The ship is currently in Italian territorial waters, there are extremely clear European rules that were accepted by the Italians,” Véran said, adding that “the current attitude of the Italian government, notably its declarations and refusal to accept the ship” were “unacceptable.”

Italy’s new far-right government, led by Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, has vowed to stop the tens of thousands of migrants who arrive on the country’s shores each year.

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POLITICS

Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.

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