By Crispian Balmer
ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s coalition parties patched up a row over the planned arrival of boat migrants on Thursday, with hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini agreeing to let in a small group following late-night government talks.
Salvini, leader of the far-right, anti-migrant League, had threatened on Wednesday to block the transfer of would-be refugees who were part of a group of 49 migrants that disembarked in Malta after spending more than two weeks at sea.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement had given their blessing to the arrival, and the public spat with Salvini was seen as another sign of growing discord within the eight-month-old government.
But Conte and 5-Star leader Di Maio met Salvini in the dead of night and reached a deal that will see around a dozen migrants let in, while putting pressure on European Union partners to honour past immigration pacts.
“I don’t want to bring down any government,” Salvini told Rtl radio on Thursday, following unsourced reports in Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper that some League politicians were plotting to oust 5-Star and put together a new coalition.
“Do you think I would create such a government,” asked Salvini. “If I commit to something, I want to see it through … There is a programme that needs to be completed. We have only just started.”
The confrontation over the migrants is a foretaste of tensions that are likely to surface repeatedly in the weeks ahead over an array of issues, with both the League and 5-Star already campaigning hard for May’s EU parliamentary election.
The two parties have very different electorates and are battling to safeguard clearcut political identities, often each in conflict with the position of their coalition ally.
Salvini had insisted this week that Italy would not take in a single one of the migrants who had been stranded at sea aboard charity rescue ships, saying the country should only accept officially registered asylum seekers arriving by plane.
He also complained that EU partners had failed to honour a pledge last year to accept more than half of some 447 migrants who were allowed to disembark in Sicily. So far just 129 have been redistributed, with only France accepting its full quota.
As part of the late-night accord, the government said the group of migrants from Malta would be taken care of by the Protestant Valdese Church group, while Conte would meet EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos to demand that the 2018 pact covering the Sicily arrival was fully implemented.
(Reporting by Massimilano Di Giorgio; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Steve Scherer and Hugh Lawson)