Italian Minister for integration Cecile Kyenge was the target of racist slurs (Reuters)
Italy's first black minister, Cecile Kyenge, has received the support of cabinet ministers of more than a dozen European nations over the racist abuse she has had to endure since taking office.
Representatives of 17 European Union countries gathered in Rome to sign a declaration condemning racism. They called it anathema to Europe's democratic principles.
"Political leaders must be models of unity, acceptance of diversity and tolerance, and not actors of division and intolerance," the declaration read.
The gathering said the attacks and insults directed at Kyenge were unacceptable and had to stop - particularly those made by political leaders and MPs - but stopped short of giving the declaration any teeth.
Born in Kambove in the south of the Democratic Rrepublic of the Congo, Kyenge arrived in Italy in the 80s to study medicine and went on to become an ophthalmologist in Modena.
Her appointment as minister of integration was hailed as a big step on Italy's difficult path towards integration but was marred by a number of racist attacks by members of the xenophobic Northern League party and some neo-fascist internet groups.
Northern League's Roberto Calderoli, who is also the vice-president of the Senate, compared the minister to an orangutan. He rejected calls to resign contending the comment was not racist.
Another Northern League member called Kyenge a "Congolese monkey," while a third said she deserved to be raped.
"Our reaction as politicians was: 'If this is how we are talking between us in the political class, imagine what the rest of society is saying,'" Malta's minister for social dialogue, Helena Dalli said.
Kyange has been under fire by conservative and xenophobic political factions because of her plans to extend citizenship rights to children born in Italy to immigrant parents.
Rome's meeting was sponsored by Belgium's deputy prime minister, Joelle Milquet.
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