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Italian senator Roberto Calderoli compares black minister to orangutan

Senator Roberto Calderoli said at a party meeting recently that Cecile Kyenge, Italy's first ever black minister, looked like one of the apes.
Cecile Kyenge calderoliEnlarge
Italian Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge talks to the press on June 18, 2013 on the sidelines of a International Organization for Migration meeting at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. (Boris Heger/AFP/Getty Images)

A senator from Italy's far-right Northern League party has come under fire for comparing a black minister to an orangutan.

Senator Roberto Calderoli said at a party meeting recently that Cecile Kyenge, Italy's minister for integration and its first ever black cabinet minister, looked like one of the apes.

"I love animals... but when I see pictures of Kyenge, I cannot help thinking of similarities with an orangutang," he was quoted as telling a crowd in the northern city of Treviglio.

Italy's Prime Minster Enrico Letta said the words were beyond the pale.

Letta said: "The words reported today in the press attributed to Senator Calderoli regarding Cecile Kyenge are unacceptable and go beyond all limits."

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Calderoli eventually bowed to pressure to retract his words. The BBC reported that he told Italian media Sunday he had called Kyenge personally to apologize.

Kyenge accepted the apology and invited him to "reflect deeply" on what he had said, she told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Politicians from the center-left parties called for Calderoli to resign after the words went viral on social media.

Gianni Cuperlo, two lawmakers from the centre-left Democratic Party, demanded the resignation of Calderoni, who is deputy speaker of the Senate.

"The remarks addressed to Minister Kyenge are not worthy of a man who represents our institutions," said Gianni Cuperlo, of the Democratic Party.

Calderoli is no stranger to controversy. He resigned from the government of Silvio Berlusconi in 2006 after wearing a T-shirt mocking the prophet Muhammad.

Kyenge has faced a slew of racial abuse, much of it from members of the Northern League, since taking up her cabinet position in April.

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