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Malta, Italy clash over migrant rescue operation

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By Reuters

<p><span class="caps">VALLETTA</span> (Reuters) – Malta refused on Tuesday to accept 90 migrants rescued by an Italian Coast Guard vessel in its search and rescue zone, setting up a potential standoff with the new Italian government.</p> <p>The Italian Coast Guard said on Tuesday it had picked up the migrants from a sinking boat off Libya at the request of the Maltese rescue coordination centre. </p> <p>The Coast Guard said its vessel was taking the migrants to Maltese waters, but Malta had refused to send a vessel to transfer them.</p> <p>The Maltese Armed Forces had been surveilling the situation and the Italians got involved, an armed forces spokeswoman said. She gave no further comment.</p> <p>Malta has repeatedly insisted that migrants should be taken to the closest safe harbour, which in this case was the Italian island of Lampedusa. </p> <p>The incident comes ahead of a meeting in Malta next week of European Union interior ministers to discuss a new migrant distribution mechanism. </p> <p>Meanwhile, the Ocean Viking charity vessel, run by <span class="caps">SOS</span> Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders, said on Twitter it had rescued 48 migrants from a wooden boat off the Libyan coast.</p> <p/> <p> (Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Bernadette Baum)</p>