The racist abuse and taunts endured by Italy's first black minister, Cecile Kyenge, further escalated on Friday after a banana was hurled at her during a rally, sparking outrage across the political spectrum.
Kyenge, who is the minister for Integration, and is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was speaking at a political rally Cervia in central Italy, when someone in the audience threw bananas towards the stage, narrowly missing it.
It is the latest incident in a series of abusive comments, death threats and insults. Earlier this month a senior parliamentarian in the anti-immigration Northern League party likened her to an orangutan and only apologised after a storm of criticism.
Another Northern League party member said on Facebook last month that Kyenge should be raped so she understands how victims of crimes committed by immigrants feel.
Kyenge responded to yesterday's incident on her Twitter account writing that the attack was "sad" and a "waste of food", considering the economic crisis.
"The courage and optimism to change things has to come above all from the bottom up to reach the institutions," she added.
Shortly before Friday's incident, members of the far-right Forza Nuova group left mannequins covered in fake blood near the site of the Democratic Party rally in protest against Kyenge's proposal to make anyone born on Italian soil a citizen.
"Immigration kills," was written on leaflets accompanying the dummies - a slogan Forza Nuova has previously used when referring to murders committed by immigrants in Italy.
However, on Saturday the group denied that one of its members had thrown the bananas. Italian police are trying to identify the culprit.
Several politicians, including her peers in Prime Minister Enrico Letta's government, responded with messages of support and condemnation on Saturday.
Environment Minister Andrea Orlando said on Twitter he felt "utmost indignation for this lowly act", while Education Minister Maria Chiara Carrozza praised Kyenge for her courage and determination in such a hostile climate.
Veneto region governor Luca Zaia from the Northern League, who is due to participate in an immigration debate with Kyenge in August, also spoke out against the incident on Saturday.
"Throwing bananas, personal insults ... acts like these play no part in the civilised and democratic discussion needed between the minister and those who don't share her opinion," the ANSA news agency quoted him as saying.
Additional reporting from Associated Press
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