Rome: Italy's Senate vice president rejected calls for his resignation Tuesday for making a racist slur against Italy's first black Cabinet minister, saying he was sorry and would send her a bouquet of flowers.
Roberto Calderoli, a leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League, has been criticized by Italy's president, premier and a host of ministers and lawmakers for having compared the Congolese-born integration minister, Cecile Kyenge, to an orangutan.
Premier Enrico Letta's Democratic Party called for his resignation, and the premier himself warned the League to put an end to such racist attacks or risk a political confrontation.
Kyenge has been targeted by racist slurs from the Northern League ever since she was named integration minister in Letta's government in April. One Northern League politician has called her a Congolese "monkey," while another has said she deserved to be raped.
Calderoli asked the Senate to accept his apologies Tuesday and said he would have resigned had a majority of Senate leaders asked for it. But he said no such majority had formed. Letta's Democrats don't control the Senate.
He said Kyenge had accepted his apologies and he would follow the suggestion of colleagues by sending her a bouquet of flowers.
"I said something foolish and I recognize that," Calderoli told the Senate. But he added that he should be judged in the Senate by his behavior in the Senate, not at a political rally. The "orangutan" comment was uttered during a League rally this past weekend.
It's not the first time Calderoli has been under fire for racist remarks: In 2006, he was forced to resign as a minister in Silvio Berlusconi's government after he wore a T-shirt on state-run television featuring one of the Prophet Muhammad cartoons that had inflamed the Muslim world.
Calderoli is vehemently anti-immigrant, and his party has opposed Kyenge's calls for Italy to change its citizenship laws to allow children of immigrants born in Italy to obtain citizenship. Currently, such children can apply for citizenship only once they turn 18, but bureaucratic problems often interfere.
Kyenge has reacted to the racist slurs by saying it's not for her to respond, it's for Italians and their political leaders.