Monday, July 15, 2013

 

Italian senator compares black minister to orangutan

The leader of the anti-immigrant party has been urged to resign over a slur directed at Italy's first black cabinet minister



ROME — Calls are mounting for the Senate vice president to resign after he compared Italy's first black Cabinet minister to an orangutan.

Roberto Calderoli, a leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League, has insisted he was only joking when he made the "aesthetic" comment about Cecile Kyenge at a League rally last weekend.
Kyenge, a Congolese-born eye doctor, has been insulted with racist slurs from the Northern League ever since she was named integration minister in April.

Calderoli said on Saturday at a political rally in the northern town of Treviglio: "I love animals - bears and wolves, as everyone knows - but when I see the pictures of Kyenge I cannot but think of, even if I'm not saying she is one, the features of an orangutan."


He said the success of Kyenge encouraged "illegal immigrants" to come to Italy, and she should be a minister "in her own country," according to media reports.
Politicians, including some from his own party, lambasted Calderoli, with some calling for him to resign as Senate vice president. In an official statement and on Twitter, Prime Minister Enrico Letta said the comments were unacceptable.

"They go beyond all limits. Full solidarity and support to Cecile. Forward with your and our work," Letta said.

For most of the day, Calderoli said he had no intention of resigning and offered only a qualified apology.

"I did not mean to offend and if minister Kyenge was offended I am sorry, but my comment was made within a much broader political speech that criticized the minister and her policies," he said.

But after hours of nearly universal condemnation and extensive coverage by the international media, Calderoli called Kyenge in the evening to apologize directly.


Letta on Monday told League leader Roberto Maroni to put an end to the slurs from within his party ranks, saying they shame the entire country.

Kyenge, for her part, has said it's not for her to demand Calderoli's resignation but that Italians should reflect on the merits of public office-holders.
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