Italy's anti-migrant interior minister and deputy premier Matteo Salvini on Wednesday defiantly defended his recent remarks calling African immigrants "new slaves," saying his comments had been misinterpreted.
"I have nothing to apologise for, on the contrary it's clear that some people are incapable of reading or of listening," Salvini told a press conference at the interior ministry.
It was also possible that his remarks in Italian at a closed-door meeting in Vienna on migration and security last Thursday (secretly filmed and posted to his Facebook page) had been "mistranslated", Salvini said.
"My comments in Vienna were actually in defence of refugees and immigrants, who some in Europe exploit as slaves," Salvini said.
"I said we don't need to import new slaves in this mass immigration and was defending the identity, right to work and health of millions of Africans," Salvini went on.
His comments came an African Union statement expressed "dismay" over the remarks made by Salvini at the Vienna conference hosted by Austria (which holds the rotating European Union presidency).
"The African Union requests the Italian deputy prime minister to retract his derogatory statement about African migrants," said the statement.
"Name-calling will not resolve the migration challenges facing Africa and Europe," the AU statement said.
In his remarks last week in Vienna Salvini claimed he did not want to "uproot the best of the African youth to replace Europeans who are not having children anymore."
"In Italy there’s the need to help our kids have kids, not to have new slaves to replace the children we’re not having,” Salvini said.
Salvini's remarks drew visible ire from Luxembourg’s foreign and immigration minister Jean Asselborn, who heckled him and swore in French.
Tens of thousands of Italians had gone to work in Luxembourg in the post-war era "so that in Italy you had money to pay for your children," Asselborn said.
Salvini reprimanded Asselborn for his "rudeness" in speaking out of turn.