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Last Updated: Monday, 16 June, 2003, 17:48 GMT 18:48 UK
Italy in 'fire on migrants' row
Umberto Bossi
Bossi is threatening to quit Italian coalition
A storm has erupted in Italy after a senior government minister was quoted as saying that boats carrying illegal immigrants should be shot out of the water.

Umberto Bossi, head of the far-right Northern League, wanted the action because he was "sick" of illegal immigrants, the Corriere della Sera newspaper quoted him as saying.

A statement from his ministry later said his views had been misrepresented.

The row comes days after figures showed a large drop in the number of immigrants reaching Italy this year.

After the second or third warning, boom... the cannon roars
Umberto Bossi quoted in Corriere della Sera

Mr Bossi is currently engaged in a major political battle within the Italian coalition, and has threatened to pull out of the government unless immigration controls are toughened.

Corriere della Sera quoted Mr Bossi as saying that weapons should now be used because there was no other solution.

"After the second or third warning, boom... the cannon roars," the paper quoted him as saying.

"Without any beating about the bush. The cannon that blows everyone out of the water. Otherwise this business will never end."

The paper says Mr Bossi was then asked whether it would be right to fire on immigrants when most boats carry mainly women and children.

The content of the interview published by Corriere della Sera does by no means reflect my thoughts, nor the meaning of my replies in what has been only a quick exchange of just two remarks
Bossi ministry's statement
"Illegal immigrants must be hounded out, either nicely or nastily. Only those with a job contract can enter the country. The others, out!," he is quoted as saying.

"There comes a time when it becomes necessary to resort to the use of force.

"The navy and the finance police are going to have to line up in defence of our shores and to use guns. Those are the proper regulations for implementing the law. No escape clauses and no postponement.

"Whether (my coalition allies) agree or not, either I hear the cannon roar on Friday or I will say goodbye."

A statement from Mr Bossi's ministry on Monday morning said his views had not been accurately portrayed.

The idea of welcoming illegal immigrants with cannon-shots is an idea worthy of a caveman
Centrist UDC leader Marco Follini
"The content of the interview published this morning by Corriere della Sera, headlined 'Cannon-shots to stop illegal immigrants', does by no means reflect my thoughts, nor the meaning of my replies in what has been only a quick exchange of just two remarks," the statement from Mr Bossi said.

"In fact, my thoughts on dealing with the major phenomenon of clandestine immigration are identical to those laid down by the Palermo Treaty which our government has not yet signed, as many other countries have done.

"The treaty equates the trafficking of clandestine immigrants with the slave trade, faced with which the possible boarding of these boats by the navy is not considered an act of piracy."

Silvio Berlusconi
Berlusconi has been given a 15-day ultimatum by Bossi
Corriere della Sera insisted later it stood by its story.

"All the words reproduced in quotation marks were pronounced by the minister," it said in a statement.

The interview had been relatively long, and "was not an exchange of jokes but an interview in all due form."

Some of Mr Bossi's Italian coalition partners denounced his reported comments.

"The idea of welcoming illegal immigrants with cannon-shots is an idea worthy of a caveman," said Marco Follini, leader of the centrist Christian Democratic Union of the Centre (UDC).

"Bossi wants to hear the roar of cannon-shots; many other people would prefer Bossi to remain silent."

Another centrist leader, Carlo Giovanardi said: "If anybody is seriously thinking about firing on women and children it's clear no dialogue is possible any longer."

Figures released by the Italian Interior Ministry on Saturday showed that in the first six months of 2003, nearly 5,300 illegal immigrants were known to have entered Italy, down from 10,400 in the same period last year.

At the same time, new measures were announced to co-ordinate immigration controls, backing up a crackdown agreed in July 2002, which was co-authored by Mr Bossi.

Bossi threat

Last week Mr Bossi said Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had 15 days in which to speed up immigration and devolution reforms, or he would walk out.

Mr Bossi brought down the first Berlusconi government in 1994.

The row comes as Italy prepares to take over the European Union's revolving presidency in July.

It was sparked when the coalition suffered poor election results last weekend, and the Northern League lost a key battle for the regional presidency of Fruili-Venezia Giulia.

The BBC's Frances Kennedy
"Italy's coastline represents the promised land for illegal immigrants"

Berlusconi's awkward ally
20 May 03  |  Europe
Bossi rocks Italian Government
05 Apr 03  |  Europe
Profile: Berlusconi's allies
04 May 01  |  Europe

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