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Italy's president pays respects to victims of migrant boat wreck

Mattarella visit comes as government faces backlash over migrant deaths.

Italy's president Sergio Mattarella travelled to the southern seaside town of Crotone on Thursday to pay his respects to the victims of Sunday's boat wreck which has resulted in the deaths of at least 67 people.

Mattarella visited the sports hall which has become a makeshift morgue for those who lost their lives - migrants from countries including Afghanistan, Iran and Syria - and offered his condolences to their loved ones who survived the disaster.

With dozens still missing since the wooden boat ran aground off the coast of Steccato di Cutro in the early hours of Sunday, the death toll continues to rise, with 16 children including a baby among the victims.

Mattarella also visited survivors being treated for their injuries at the town's hospital, where a man among the onlookers shouted that the disaster "could have been avoided".

The visit by the Italian head of state comes amid a backlash against the right-wing government over its recent crackdown on migrant rescue ships and controversial remarks by interior minister Matteo Piantedosi who appeared to blame migrants when he said: "Desperation can never justify travel conditions that endanger the lives of one's children".

Elly Schlein, the newly-elected leader of the centre-left Partito Democratico (PD) has called on Piantedosi to resign, asking him in parliament on Wednesday: "What real alternative do people fleeing in search of protection have, beyond being tortured to death or dying at sea?" Schlein is also expected to visit Crotone on Thursday.

Premier Giorgia Meloni on Wednesday once again took aim at people traffickers and called on fellow European Union leaders to increase efforts to halt illegal immigration.

Footage from the PalaMilone sports centre the day before Mattarella's visit showed men and women weeping over the coffins which are lined up in rows and include the small white coffins of children.

Some mourners sobbed quietly as they knelt in prayer, others fainted after becoming overcome by grief and were carried out on stretchers by Red Cross staff.

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