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Update 2: Italian Ambassador 'surprised' by RAI presenter's claim that Malta shoots at migrants

The Italian ambassador to Malta, Luigi Marras, this afternoon expressed surprise at a claim by well-known Italian TV presenter Massimo Giletti that migrants were not coming to Malta but were going to Lampedusa instead because Malta was shooting at the migrants.

"Of course, this is not true at all," the ambassador said.

Giletti made his claim on the Rai Uno discussion programme L'Arena, angering many Maltese who watch his programme. Malta's ambassador to Rome, Walter Balzan, intervened by phone to strongly deny the claim.

Sig Marras said when contacted that the claim did not reflect the view of the Italian government or the Italian people. That, he said, was the claim of just one Italian.

He said Italy and Malta were working intensely to face the challenge of migration.

The ambassador also wondered how Malta was drawn into the argument since the current influx being experienced by Lampedusa is of Tunisian migrants (with Tunisia being far closer to Italy than Malta).

During the programme, when the Maltese Ambassador intervened with his denial, Sig Giletti asked him to explain how the migrants did not stop in Malta and went to Lampedusa instead. He insisted there had to be a reason, and Malta must be using some 'other technique'.

The ambassador said that was another story, completely different from claiming that migrants were being shot at.

Malta, he insisted, always adhered to international law and this was widely acknowledged.

Sig Giletti argued that Malta was using 'hard tactics'.

In a sarcastic tone, he continued to ask the ambassador why the migrants chose not to come to Malta, which was bigger and 'more welcoming' than Lampedusa.

The ambassador was also asked by a member of the panel whether it was true that Malta had prevented entry to ship carrying migrants, including a woman who had just given birth. The ambassador said he had no information of the sort.

Sig Giletti never admitted that he said Maltese authorities were shooting at migrants, even implying that he had been referring to the Spanish coastguard, but acknowledged any misunderstanding, insisting that the question remained as to how the migrants did not come to Malta adding "beati voi!"

Before the Maltese ambassador's phone intervention, commentator Vittorio Sgarbi said the migrants were going to Lampedusa, not to Malta, because Malta was turning them back, although he never mentioned shooting.

He also appeared to contradict comments he made last week, when he asked why military aircraft were not using Malta for their operations against Italy.

The Italian government says more than 15,000 migrants have arrived on the Italian island from Tunisia since the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in mid-January, including around 13,500 in the last 20 days alone.

A US Embassy cable recently revealed by Wikileaks quoted the American charge d' affairs in Rome, Elizabeth Dibble, claiming that she had been told by an AFM officer that the AFM directed migrants' boats to Lampedusa if they were not in distress.

MALTA PROTESTS

A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Foreign Minister Tonio Borg had complained to the Italian Ambassador in Malta about the programme.

The Maltese authorities also protested against the le Iene, a popular discussion programme on Mediaset, which had claimed, two years ago, that Malta did not rescue migrants in distress.

AFM DENIAL

The AFM in a statement also issued its own denial.

"The AFM categorically denies the accusations made by the presenter of the programme. Furthermore, it is hereby stated that no person at sea ever requested assistance from the AFM and was denied such assistance.

"All allegations are completely unfounded," it said.

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