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Italy's Matteo Salvini shuts port to 629 rescued migrants

Italy's Matteo Salvini shuts port to 629 rescued migrants

The migrants were rescued in six separate nighttime operations in the central Mediterranean on Saturday.

Laurent, of SOS Mediterranee, acknowledged Spain's offer of solidarity but said it wasn't up to the Rome-based rescue coordination center run by the Italian coast guard.

Meanwhile, the situation with 'Aquarius' was resolved after Spain chose to step in following the United Nations refugee agency call to promptly find a way to take the ship full of people in.

She warned that the ship will have to travel some 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) to reach the Spanish coast - which AFP estimates could take at least four days - and that by Tuesday "there will be no more food (on board) apart from energy biscuits". Stanishev said Italy was refusing to fulfill its own obligations under global law.

However, the ship has been allowed to dock in the Sicilian capital, after Leoluca Orlando, the mayor of Palermo, defied the new Italian populist government's orders.

Despite the diplomatic pressure, Italy and Malta held firm, with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini clearly using the high seas drama as a pretext to force the hand of Italy's European neighbors.

Italy has had to accept some 700,000 migrants since 2013, in line with the controversial Dublin Regulation requiring to declare refugee status in their first country of arrival. He announced the decision to close the ports Sunday just as nearly seven million Italians were voting in local elections in 761 municipalities.

Before the government was formed, Mr. Salvini vowed to deport hundreds of thousands of migrants, though the cost of doing so might be prohibitive.

"Italy has stopped bowing our heads and obeying", Salvini said in a Facebook post. "This time we say no", Mr Salvini said, urging Malta, to accept the ship.

"The boat is now heading north towards a secure port", SOS Mediterranee tweeted on Sunday without specifying its destination, though virtually every such migrant boat over the past five years has ended up in Italy.

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The move also created rifts with Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who said the he was "worried about the direction taken by the Italian authorities" that according to him went against global law.

Increasing safe returns for migrants to their countries after fair and efficient procedures is a reasonable policy objective.

Malta and Italy thanked Spain for stepping up, but maintained their dispute over who was responsible.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who took office just over a week ago, has given instructions for the boat to be admitted to the eastern port of Valencia, his office said in a statement.

The mayors of two Spanish cities had also offered to receive the boat, Reuters reports.

What are the rules around sea rescues?

The Salvini gambit might be crude, against European Union and worldwide law, and an even offence against common decency, but it might also inject a dose of reality. "In general states have the obligation to provide assistance to persons in distress at sea".

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini tweeted Sunday that from now on, "Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings".

Operation Themis, which replaced Operation Triton was put in effect earlier this year, meaning that Italy was no longer obliged to take all migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea.

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