Italy denounces ‘hypocritical lessons’ on migrants from France

The migrants being rescued

The migrants being rescued

The Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez said he would give the ship "safe harbour" and that he wanted to help avoid a humanitarian emergency.

Some 629 people, including pregnant women and scores of children, were saved by SOS Mediterranean Saturday and are stuck aboard the French NGO's ship Aquarius, which is now between Malta and Sicily waiting for a secure port.

Rescue workers onboard the MV Aquarius said it will take four days to reach the port of Valencia and that the boat should be allowed access to the nearest port immediately, which now means in Italian or Maltese territory.

The migrants were picked up off the Libyan coast at the weekend and were packed onto the Aquarius which is operated by the charities SOS Mediterranee and Medecins san Frontieres.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Facebook that Spain's offer meant Italy was "no longer alone" and now it was time to make European Union asylum rules "more fair for everybody".

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League party, said Malta should take in the ship, the Aquarius, but his request was rejected.

The ship was heading for the Italian port of Messina Sunday when Italian officials ordered it to stop and remain in place, 27 miles west of Malta and 35 miles south west of mainland Italy.

"Saving lives at sea is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp is not", Salvini said on Facebook on Monday.

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Medicins Sans Frontiers said: "This plan would mean to people already exhausted to spend four more days on the sea".

The rescue ship's crew pulled 229 migrants from the water or from traffickers' unseaworthy boats on Saturday night, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women. Italy shouldn't have to shoulder the burden by itself, he added, when other European countries aren't doing their fair share.

"Turning this into a political weapon is despicable.it is clear that Europe must act more wisely, but we can not let these people die at sea".

French President Emmanuel Macron denounced the decision to block the Aquarius, operated by the Franco-German charity SOS Mediterranne, saying global law obligated Italy to take in the migrants.

Under EU rules, migrants must apply for asylum in the European country where they first arrive.

La Repubblica newspaper reported Salvini sent a letter to the Maltese authorities saying he would "be forced to close Italy's ports" if the 629 migrants saved by French NGO SOS Mediterranee weren't allowed to land at Malta's capital Valletta.

"If the French have the humility to say they are sorry, we can put it behind us and be friends like before", Salvini told reporters on the sidelines of a business conference.

The summer of 2016 saw a surge in mass drownings in the Mediterranean as Europe's worst migration crisis since World War II peaked with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

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