Rome

Kyenge counter-attacks after avalanche of racist abuse

Announces action plan to 'enforce laws on the books'

Kyenge counter-attacks after avalanche of racist abuse

(By Christopher Livesay) Rome, July 30 - Italian Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge - Italy's first black cabinet member - on Tuesday called continued attacks by militants of the anti-immigrant Northern League "intolerable" and demanded the party's national chief, Lombardy Governor of Roberto Maroni, do something to put an end to them. "I consider the continued and repeated attacks by members of the Northern League to be intolerable," Kyenge told reporters on Tuesday. "Despite having different ideas," people and political leaders must "face each other with the ideas, and not through insults or antics like those that took place in the council area of the municipality of Cantu'," Kyenge said. On Monday the Congo-born minister was invited to speak to the town council by the mayor of the town near Lake Como. Two Northern League councillors and an ex-Northern League councillor subsequently left the hall in protest. "Maroni must immediately call on militants to stop attacking me now. If he doesn't, I will be forced to decline the invitation to the Northern League festival," said Kyenge. She is scheduled to debate Veneto's Northern League governor, Luca Zaia, at an event on the northeastern Italian coast. The Cantu' incident came the same day Lower House MP Giulia Narduolo of the Democratic Party (PD) denounced Andrea Draghi, a Northern League councillor in Montagnana in Veneto, for a Facebook photo and television ad slogan comparing Kyenge to a gorilla. Narduolo, who called on local politicians in Montagnana to expel Draghi, said that when she saw the post, "I thought 'here we go again'". In some of the latest attacks against Kyenge, mannequins smeared with blood-red paint and anti-immigrant messages were found in the town of Cervia just as she arrived there for political meetings on Friday. Later, during her speech, someone in the audience threw a banana, a likely reference to comments by a Senator from the anti-immigration Northern League who compared her to an orangutan. That was followed by slurs against Kyenge, some in support of the banana-thrower, posted on the Facebook pages of local politicians in Tuscany and the Veneto region. And police said Monday a man was under investigation after threatening violence against Kyenge. Police searched the home of the 61-year-old in Verona but found no weapons. The continued attacks and racial slurs have "outraged many citizens and raised concern about the racist feelings (expressed by certain national leaders)," House Speaker Laura Boldrini said on Monday. Kyenge commented Tuesday that "in addition to hurting (me)" the attacks and insults "injure the civil conscience of the majority of this country". Italy's National Office against Racial Discrimination (UNAR) investigated 1,283 cases in 2012, up 61% on the year, according to its Contact Center on Tuesday. The UNAR emphasized that the data does not necessarily mean incidents have increased, but could indicate a higher sensitivity to possible discrimination by the public at large and a greater tendency to report. The majority of complaints, 19.6%, came from the northern Lombardy region around Milan, followed by 14.4% in the central Lazio region around Rome. On the same day, Kyenge announced that the government in November will review a national action plan against racism and intolerance she prepared with Junior Minister Cecilia Guerra. "The plan we're working on comes from requests from civil society," Kyenge told journalists. "Given recent acts of racism and violence, I believe it's time to apply legislative measures that already exist and, if necessary, to reinforce them. "Before making new laws, let's start applying the ones we have".

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