Hundreds more migrants heading to Italy as Aquarius diverted to Spain

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Migrants sit on the deck of the MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in partnership between SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres in the central Mediterranean Sea, June 12, 2018.

"The plan is that the European Union should at last really take care of defending its borders", Salvini told newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday. Macron's office said Tuesday that France doesn't want to "start a precedent" that would allow some European countries to breach worldwide laws and rely on other EU member states to take in migrants.

The 629 migrants - including 123 unaccompanied minors and several pregnant women - were onboard the Aquarius, operated by the charity SOS Mediterranee.

Some of the migrants on the overcrowded Aquarius, who are mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, were moved onto to two Italian ships from the navy and coastguard and are headed for the port of Valencia, Spain.

The shift has heightened tensions in Europe, with France accusing Italy of "cynical" and irresponsible behavior.

Salvini shot back that France has turned away thousands of migrants trying to reach France at Italy's northern border.

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French President Emmanuel Macron, who had been criticized for not offering to take in the boat at a French port, broke his silence on the topic during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, denouncing the "cynicism and irresponsibility of the Italian government", government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux said at a press conference.

His party's spokesman Gabriel Attal went further, told Public Senat TV that "the line of the Italian government is nauseating".

Crew aboard the Diciotti began disembarking passengers in Catania's port early Wednesday.

Italy's new populist government was quick to respond to the accusations denouncing "hypocritical lessons" from countries like France on migrants.

Hundreds of migrants were being split between three ships Tuesday for a trip to Spain in bad weather, after Italy's new government used their plight to pressure Europe to revisit its migration policy.

This year, more than 35,000 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean, with nearly 800 thought to be dead or missing.

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