Activists protest as Italy prepares to ship migrants to Spain

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Paris: Paris on Tuesday defended its decision not to offer safe harbour to the stranded migrant ship Aquarius after local leaders on Corsica proposed opening one of their ports to the vessel.

On Tuesday, France's president and prime minister took the newly-elected government of Italy to task for refusing to grant a migrant rescue vessel permission to dock.

Spain unexpectedly offered on Monday to take in the migrants, who were picked up off the Libyan coast over the weekend, but the Aquarius had still not moved more than 16 hours later as the authorities finalize logistics of the trip.

"Our only objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the people that we rescued yesterday in hard conditions", it said, adding that it "took good note" of the Italian Interior Ministry's statements.

Among those packed onto the Aquarius were 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women.

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Italy's new anti-migrant, right-wing interior minister, Matteo Salvini, is making good on a campaign pledge to close Italian ports to non-governmental organizations that pick up migrants at sea, which he has likened to taxi services for migrant smugglers.

The head of the anti-immigrant party, the League, Salvini has positioned himself as the strongman in the unlikely coalition government recently formed with the ideologically fungible Five Star Movement.

Spanish socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez offered to allow the Aquarius to dock in Valencia, insisting it was an "obligation" to do so.

The Aquarius received 129 people from one Italian coastguard ship (CP 312), 64 from a second Italian coastguard ship (CP 319), and finally 88 from a third Italian coastguard ship (CP 267).

Malta, for its part, has consistently refused to take in migrants, citing its small size and limited capacities.

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Salvini pointed to Malta's unwillingness in accusing Europe as a whole of leaving Italy on its own to deal with the refugee crisis.

But Italy's new anti-establishment government, looking to put pressure on the European Union to re-write its immigration rules, showed no signs of relenting despite warnings of an approaching storm bringing waves of over 2 metres (6.5 ft). Another 21 patients suffered severe chemical burns from exposure to sea water mixed with fuel, while others risk pneumonia and yet others need immediate surgery for orthopedic issues. It came just after a fatal day in the Mediterranean, with at least 112 people estimated drowned when a boat that departed from the Tunisian coast sank at sea, and nine people, including six children, died in the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.

Italy's hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini, in a joint statement with Danilo Toninelli, minister in charge of the Italian coastguard, insisted that Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise global conventions on the protection of human life". His tweet concluded with the hashtag #chiudiamoiporti - which means "we're closing the ports" in Italian.

Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini told Italian media that a second humanitarian ship, the Sea Watch 3, which is now navigating off the Libyan coast, will not be allowed into Italian ports, if and when it is involved in a migrant rescue operation.

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