February 14, 2011 / 11:26 AM / 8 years ago

Tunisia rejects Italian "interference" over migrants

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia has angrily rejected a suggestion that the Italian government could send police officers to the north African country to help stem the flow of illegal migrants trying to reach Italy.

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni made the suggestion in response to what he called a “biblical exodus” that has seen more than 2,000 people arrive on an Italian island from Tunisia in the past week.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini was to arrive in Tunisia Monday evening for talks with caretaker prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, a foreign ministry spokesman in Rome said.

Tunisia overthrew its autocratic President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in a popular revolt last month and since then has been struggling to restore order.

“Tunisia ... expresses its surprise at this stance (from the Italian minister) and confirms that it categorically rejects any interference in its internal affairs or any infringement of its sovereignty,” Tunisia’s official news agency quoted the foreign ministry as saying.

“Tunisia reiterates its willingness to cooperate with fraternal countries in order to identify appropriate solutions to the phenomenon of illegal migration, founded on respect for human rights and dignity,” it said.

“Tunisia hopes to study this question in complete openness with Italian officials during meetings over the course of the next few days.”

Speaking Sunday, Maroni, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League which is part of Italy’s governing coalition, said the flow of migrants from Tunisia was a “biblical exodus that has never been seen before.”

“I will ask the Tunisian foreign minister for authorisation so an Italian contingent can intervene to block the influx. The Tunisian system is collapsing,” Maroni said on Italian television.

Reporting by Tarek Amara in Tunis and Deepa Babington in Rome; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Giles Elgood

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