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Italy holds cabinet meeting near site of migrant boat disaster

Government set to stiffen penalties for traffickers.

Italian premier Giorgia Meloni will hold a cabinet meeting on Thursday afternoon in Cutro, near the site of a migrant shipwreck in which dozens of people lost their lives off the Calabrian coast on 28 February.

The meeting in the southern seaside town will take place amid tight security and comes as Meloni's right-wing coalition faces a backlash over its recent crackdown on migrant rescue ships.

The government is expected to approve tougher jail terms for people smugglers as well as boosting maritime surveillance, according to Italian media reports.

Meloni had faced criticism for not travelling to Cutro, in contrast to Italy's president Sergio Mattarella who met survivors of the shipwreck and paid his respects to the victims in the town's coffin-filled sports hall.

The boat was carrying an estimated 180 people - from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria - when it smashed onto rocks in stormy seas off Steccato di Cutro. There were 81 survivors and the search continues for those still missing.

Rome prosecutors have opened an investigation into the shipwreck amid debate over whether more could have been done to avoid the disaster. Meloni has dismissed outright any such speculation.

In the immediate aftermath of the shipwreck, Italy's interior minister Matteo Piantedosi was at the centre of a controversy when he appeared to blame the migrants by saying: "Desperation can never justify travel conditions that endanger the lives of one's children".

Piantedosi subsequently told parliament that he "deeply regrets that the meaning of my words has been misinterpreted" and insisted it was a "serious falsehood" that the government prevents rescues at sea.

Ahead of Thursday's cabinet meeting, graffiti criticising Piantedosi appeared on the highway leading to Cutro where protests against the government are expected.

Photo credit: Alessio Tricani / Shutterstock.com

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