Italy warns on Le Pen visit to migrant island

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Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni on Tuesday warned a planned visit to the immigrant-magnet island of Lampedusa by French far-right leader Marine Le Pen could "throw fuel on the fire."

"I hope she doesn't do any damage. The situation is very delicate in Lampedusa," Maroni said in an interview with La7 television.

"I hope no-one goes there to throw fuel on the fire," he said.

Le Pen plans to visit Lampedusa on Monday following the arrival of thousands of mainly Tunisian undocumented immigrants there in recent weeks.

"We will ensure it is not used as propaganda for French domestic politics," said Maroni, himself a member of the anti-immigration Northern League party.

A shock online poll issued on Sunday in Le Parisien newspaper showed Le Pen's likely support in France's presidential election in 2012 at 23 percent -- compared to 21 percent for Nicolas Sarkozy.

Maroni earlier said that around 8,000 illegal immigrants have arrived in Lampedusa in the past month -- more than the total for the whole of 2010.

More than 1,200 immigrants landed on the island on Monday on more than a dozen boats after Mediterranean crossings lasting up to 24 hours.

Lampedusa, which has an 850-bed immigrant centre, is struggling to deal with the new arrivals and migrants are being airlifted to other parts of Italy.

The exodus from Tunisia follows a popular revolt that ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January after 23 years in power and in turned sparked the uprising in Egypt that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak last month.

© 2011 AFP

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