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Italy interior minister slammed for response to migrant boat tragedy

Opposition rounds on Piantedosi as shipwreck death toll rises.

Italy's interior minister Matteo Piantedosi has caused public outrage for his response to Sunday's shipwreck off the southern Italian coast which has claimed the lives of at least 64 people, including 14 children, amid fears that the death toll could rise to around 100.

"Desperation can never justify travel conditions that endanger the lives of one's children", Piantedosi told reporters after visiting the scene of the shipwreck near Steccato di Cutro.

Piantedosi, who has spearheaded Italy's recent crackdown on migration under far-right premier Giorgia Meloni, made the remarks following a meeting with authorities in the Crotone province of Calabria, where a wooden sailboat smashed onto rocks off the shore after carrying migrants on a perilous voyage from Turkey.

There were 81 survivors among the passengers on the overcrowded vessel - estimated at between 180 and 200 people who came mainly from Afghanistan, as well as Iran, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria - and the search continues to find those still missing.

Last week the Italian parliament passed into law a government decree establishing a code of conduct for migrant charity ships which are obliged to request access to a port after a rescue operation and sail to it "without delay", impeding NGOs from making multiple rescues along the way.

Carlo Calenda, leader of the centrist Azione party, posted a video of Piantedosi's comments along with the caption: "Unworthy words spoken with an unbearable pomposity."

Elly Schlein, the newly-elected leader of the centre-left Partito Democratico (PD), said the government has the disaster on its "conscience" after "approving a decree that impedes sea rescues".

Piantedosi's remarks were slammed as "little more than a sad blame game, yet another slap in the face of the victims and survivors of this tragedy", by Marco Bertotto, director of programmes in Italy for Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

The interior minister hit back at accusations that he had implied the victims were to blame, describing such a suggestion as "shameful exploitation", and reiterated the government's position that people traffickers must be stopped.

In an interview with newspaper Corriere della Sera on Tuesday, Piantedosi denied he was "inhuman" and recalled that he travelled immediately to the scene of the shipwreck to express his "condolences for the victims and solidarity to the survivors on behalf of myself and the entire government."

He told the Corriere that there was "no delay" in rescue efforts in Cutro, insisting that "all possible efforts were made in absolutely prohibitive sea conditions", and underlined that there was "no link between the new rules and the possible increase in deaths at sea".

The minister also stressed that he would repeat in parliament the coalition's "clear political line that aims to combat the uncontrolled flows and the network of traffickers."

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