ROME (AP) — Premier Enrico Letta has harshly criticized a top Italian senator who likened the country’s first black Cabinet minister to an orangutan, the latest high-profile racist episode in a nation grappling with immigration.
In a statement Sunday, Letta denounced Roberto Calderoli‘s words as “unacceptable” and “beyond every limit.”
Calderoli, the Senate’s vice president and a leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, made denigrating remarks about Immigration Minister Cecile Kyenge while he was speaking at a party rally Saturday in northern Italy, the populist movement’s power base.
“When I see images of Kyenge I cannot help think, even if I don’t say that she is one, of a resemblance to an orangutan,” the Corriere della Sera newspaper quoted Calderoli as saying.
Kyenge is a Congolese-born doctor who became Italy’s first black minister when Letta’s Cabinet was sworn in in April. Reactions to her appointment have added to political tensions in Italy this summer, and Letta’s coalition government, which faces economic and other pressures, is extremely fragile.
Calderoli told the rally that Kyenge has done well to become a minister, but “perhaps she should do it in her own country.” He further was quoted as saying she “makes so many clandestine migrants who come here dream” that they will find “America” in Italy.
The Northern League isn’t in the government but has long been the closest political ally of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right party, which is Letta’s main partner in the coalition government. Calderoli’s remarks sparked calls for him to resign, including from one of Kyenge’s fellow ministers, Gianpiero D’Alia.