The leader of Italy's far-right Northern League, Umberto Bossi, has caused a storm with an interview in which he reportedly said that boats carrying illegal immigrants to Italy's shores should be shot out of the water.
Mr Bossi, minister for devolution, has insisted that his views were misrepresented. Corriere della Sera says it stands by its story.
The following are excerpts of the interview as published in Corriere della Sera, followed by Mr Bossi's denial.
Bossi: Either the interior minister [Giuseppe Pisanu] comes to the cabinet meeting on Friday with extremely convincing regulations for the implementation of the law on immigration in his pocket or the whole thing is going to go to blazes. And I will not be happy with just any old regulations. No, I want to hear the cannon roar.
Bossi: Illegal immigrants must be hounded out
Interviewer Fabio Cavalera: I beg your pardon?
There is no point in our wasting time taking each other for a ride.
There are two ways to implement the law approved a year ago.
Either we say in a general kind of way, as some people would like, that our ships will tackle the illegal migrants' vessels and take on board only the women and children.
After the second or third warning, boom... the cannon roars
Umberto Bossi as quoted in Corrriere della Sera
Or else we write down in black and white that force will be used, and that is the way I want it.
The use of force? How?
After the second or third warning, boom... the cannon roars. Without any beating about the bush. The cannon that blows everyone out of the water. Otherwise this business will never end.
Opening fire on rusty old boats full of defenceless and starving wretches, maybe even women and children?
Illegal immigrants must be hounded out, either nicely or nastily. Only those with a job contract can enter the country. The others, out!
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.
Do your allies in the governing coalition agree?
Whether they agree or not, either I hear the cannon roar on Friday or I will say goodbye. The law was approved a year ago. In 12 months the Interior Ministry has done absolutely nothing; it may not be entirely Pisanu's fault, but what I ask myself is this: Why have the regulations for its implementation stayed shut away in a drawer? Why have thousands of illegal immigrants been allowed to land without a permit?
It is extremely dangerous for Berlusconi to take people for a ride over an issue such as immigration
I went to hold a rally in the valleys of the province of Bergamo. You should have heard what they were shouting. Or what people are shouting in the Veneto. If any of my colleagues are afraid of listening to certain things, then I will explain to them just what the people are saying to those who are not on the people's side: Go waste your time elsewhere. The people will not tolerate a law being approved and then not applied.
Is the league calling for the interior minister's resignation?
The league is going to wait until it reads the regulations; it is going to wait until Friday's cabinet meeting; then it will make its decision. It is extremely dangerous for [Italian Prime Minister] Silvio Berlusconi and for the government to take people for a ride over an issue such as immigration. Failing to implement the reforms and boycotting the law on immigration are fatal...
There is the matter of the procedures for regularization which must not be allowed to take too long; and there is also the problem of those already on Italian soil who provide the authorities with phoney personal details. There is only one road for those crafty guys: jail, and then straight home. With no mercy, no ifs or buts. It is shameful to have wasted all these months, but I do have an inkling as to why...
Either the government sides with the people, or else we are quitting
Then why does the law not work 12 months after its approval, and why does it not have the regulations for its implementation that would allow it to be applied?
They are trying to scuttle a good law. It is a political manoeuvre.
At whom are you pointing the finger?
Certain people on the Left and certain Catholic forces that have built up a nice little business over immigration. They have sold Jesus Christ. Do they not realize that all the grumbling over so much tolerance towards illegal immigrants is deepest precisely among the Catholics themselves?
There are whole parties that are to blame for refusing to address the scourge of illegal immigration in a firm manner. We will wait until Friday and then, if necessary, we will take to the streets and start naming names. We are not the kind of guys to stand passively by while the people shout. But what is this government doing? No, no. Either the government sides with the people, or else we are quitting.
Immigration, devolution: How is the government review going to address these issues, Minister Bossi?
Berlusconi wants the reforms. I do not know whether the coalition is behind him. We shall see. I am going to jot down the league's demands. Berlusconi, the leader, will answer me, and then we will make a decision. That is what the government review is all about, as far as I am concerned...
Denial statement by Mr Bossi released by his ministry:
"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.
"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."
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