An Italian senator has been pressured into apologizing after he said the country’s first black cabinet minister reminded him of an orangutan.
Roberto Calderoli, from the anti-immigration Northern League, told a rally that the success of Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge encouraged “illegal immigrants” to come to Italy.
Ms. Kyenge is an Italian citizen born in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
It is the latest in a series of rows over racism in Italy.
“I love animals – bears and wolves, as everyone knows – but when I see the pictures of Kyenge I cannot but think of, even if I’m not saying she is one, the features of an orangutan,” Mr. Calderoli said in a speech to a rally in the northern city of Treviso on Saturday.
He also said Ms. Kyenge should be a minister “in her own country”.
Mr. Calderoli’s words ignited a storm of criticism on social media and from political leaders.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta said the comments went “beyond all limits” and he offered “full solidarity and support to Cecile”.
At first Mr. Calderoli offered only a qualified apology, saying his words were part of a larger debate about immigration.
But by Sunday evening, he told the Italian news agency Ansa that he had called Ms. Kyenge himself to apologize.
Ms. Kyenge is a Congolese-born doctor who has lived in Italy since 1983.
The Northern League has expelled a local politician who suggested on Facebook that someone should rape Ms. Kyenge so that she “can understand what victims of atrocious crimes feel”.
And a Northern League member of the European Parliament was expelled from his party grouping after he said Ms. Kyenge wanted to impose “tribal traditions” in Italy.