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Italy renews calls for EU to take immigrants

ROME, Mar 31 – Italy renewed calls on Thursday for Europe to help with its burgeoning immigration problem by taking in some of the immigrants, despite being shown the cold shoulder by the EU.

"The immigrants already in Italy should be repatriated to Tunisia or distributed throughout Europe. There is a shocking lack of solidarity," Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in an interview with Channel Five television.

The European Commission on Wednesday said Italy should deal with the economic migrants washing up on its shores, the majority of whom are Tunisian.

EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said European nations must step up efforts to help Italy cope, but admitted that the European Commission cannot force states to take in people.

Italy has repeatedly blamed Europe for having abandoned it in the fight against illegal immigration.

Since the fall of ex-Tunisian president Ben Ali in mid-January, around 20,000 immigrants have arrived in Italy, mainly on the tiny island of Lampedusa, vastly outnumbering local residents.

Frattini said he was pleased that the Tunisian authorities had blocked 1,200 people who had attempted to set sail for Italy in the last 48 hours, though boatloads of immigrants have continued to arrive from Libya.

Thursday morning 1,450 immigrants were evacuated off the island on the Excelsior ferry, headed for the Manduria reception centre in Puglia in southern Italy.

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