Italy’s first black minister has a banana thrown at her

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Roberto Calderoli

italian minister

Congolese-born Italian Minister Cecile Kyenge/Press TV

Italy’s first black minister has condemned a spectator who threw bananas towards her while she was making a speech at a party rally.

Integration minister Cecile Kyenge, who was born in Democratic Republic of Congo, has angered far-right groups with her campaign to make it easier for immigrants to gain Italian citizenship.

She has been a target of racist slurs since her appointment in April.

Shortly before the incident on Friday, members of the right-wing Forza Nuova group left mannequins covered in fake blood at the site of the rally in Cervia, central Italy.

This was in protest against Kyenge’s proposal to make anyone born on Italian soil a citizen.

‘The courage and optimism to change things has to come above all from the bottom up to reach the institutions,’ she added.

Kyenge has faced regular insults since becoming minister, often from other politicians.

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.

Roberto Calderoli, vice-president of the Senate – Italy’s upper house – and a leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, made the remarks about immigration minister Cecile Kyenge at a party rally.

‘When I see images of Kyenge I cannot help think, even if I don’t say that she is one, of a resemblance to an orangutan,’ he said.

For most of the day, Calderoli said he had no intention of resigning and offered only a qualified apology.

‘I did not mean to offend and if minister Kyenge was offended I am sorry, but my comment was made within a much broader political speech that criticised the minister and her policies,’ he said.

But after hours of nearly universal condemnation and extensive coverage by the international media, Calderoli called Kyenge in the evening to apologise directly.

She had done well to become a minister, he said, but ‘perhaps she should do it in her own country’.

Prime Minister Enrico  Letta has denounced the comments as ‘unacceptable’ and ‘beyond every limit’. And several ministers said Mr Calderoli should step down from his Senate position.

Politicians, including some from his own party, lambasted Calderoli, with some calling for him to resign as Senate vice president. In an official statement and on Twitter, Prime Minister Enrico Letta said the comments were unacceptable.

‘They go beyond all limits. Full solidarity and support to Cecile. Forward with your and our work,’ Letta said.

‘I just spoke with minister Kyenge and I apologised,’ Calderoli told state news agency Ansa.

Last month, a Northern League member in the European parliament was expelled from the eurosceptic Europe of Freedom and Democracy group for making racist remarks about her.

Mario Borghezio had attacked Kyenge for wanting to impose ‘tribal traditions’ in Italy as a member of a ‘bonga bonga’ government, an apparent play on the so-called ‘bunga bunga’ parties of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

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