An Italian senator has sparked outrage after he compared the country’s first black government minister to an orang-utan, with Prime Minister Enrico Letta calling the comments “unacceptable” and “beyond every limit”.
Roberto Calderoli, vice president of the Senate and leader of the right-wing, anti-immigration Northern League party, was speaking at a political rally in northern Italy on Saturday.
Referring to the Immigration Minister Cecile Kyenge, Calderoli is reported by the Corriere della Sera newspaper as saying: “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 orang-utan.”
Kyenge is an eye surgeon with Italian citizenship but was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Speaking about her political success, Calderoli said: “Perhaps she should do it in her own country.”
He was also quoted as saying she “makes so many clandestine migrants who come here dream” that they will find “America” in Italy.
Prime Minister Letta, who appointed Kyenge as a minister in April, said in a statement that the comments were unacceptable and that she had his “full solidarity and support”.
The Northern League isn't in power, but is the closest political ally of former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right party, which is Letta's main partner in the coalition government. There were calls for Calderoli to resign, including from one of Kyenge's fellow ministers, Gianpiero D'Alia.
And while Kyenge refused to call for the senator’s resignation herself, she said she hoped all politicians would “reflect on their use of communication”.
She told the Ansa news agency: “I do not take Calderoli's words as a personal insult but they sadden me because of the image they give of Italy.”
Kyenge has lived in Italy since 1983. She received death threats before a recent visit to the northern region that is Calderoli's party base, and a local politician was fired for suggesting on Facebook that someone should rape Kyenge so she “can understand what victims of atrocious crimes feel.” The League's leaders blame immigrants for violent crime in Italy.