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article imageItaly's black minister Cecile Kyenge has bananas thrown at her

By JohnThomas Didymus     Jul 27, 2013 in World
Rome - Italy's first black minister, Cecile Kyenge, has been a target of racist slurs and attacks since appointment as the country's Integration Minister in April. A member of the audience threw bananas at her during a speech at a rally in Cervia, Friday.
Reuters reports that although the bananas missed their target, Kyenge responded on Twitter, saying that the behavior was "sad" and a waste of food in the midst of economic crisis. She added: "The courage and optimism to change things has to come above all from the bottom up to reach the institutions."
The attack has drawn condemnation from mainstream politicians, her colleagues in the government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta, and the media. According to the Telegraph, a sympathetic politician said the behavior of the far-right wing has brought the country shame.
The Mayor of Rome, Mayor Gianni Alemanno, said: "Another shameful and disgraceful gesture. Solidarity with the Minister Kyenge. Now let's just isolate the idiots."
Environment Minister Andrea Orlando, expressed indignation at the "lowly act," while Education Minister Maria Chiara Carrozza, praised Kyenge's courage and determination in the face of hostility.
Veneto region governor Luca Zaia, of the Northern League, who is due to face Kyenge in an immigration debate in August, also criticized the act, saying: "Throwing bananas, personal insults... acts like these play no part in the civilized and democratic discussion needed between the minister and those who don't share her opinion."
Kyenge, 48, was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and moved to Italy when she was 18. Her appointment as Integration Minister, campaign for the rights of immigrants and efforts to make it easier for them to gain Italian citizenship has angered the far-right, Reuters reports.
According to the Telegraph, increasing immigration, especially from North Africa, has been accompanied by rising racist feelings in the country.
Kyenge has faced constant racial hostility and threats from members of far-right groups since joining the government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta.
Reuters reports that last month, a Northern League councilor said he wished Kyenge would be raped so she could understand how victims of crimes immigrants committed feel. The councilor reportedly received a suspended jail sentence and a temporary ban from holding public office, according to Reuters.
Protesting members of the far right-wing Forza Nuoza left mannequins covered with fake blood at the site of the rally where bananas were thrown at her. The action was in protest of her proposal to extend Italian citizenship to all persons born on Italian soil.
The protesters also issued leaflets that said, "Immigration kills," a slogan that was used in the past in reference to murders allegedly committed by immigrants.
Recently, Roberto Calderoli, vice president of the Senate and leader of the anti-immigration Northern League party, likened Kyenge to an orangutan.
According to Reuters, Calderoli said: "When I see images of Kyenge I cannot help think, even if I don’t say that she is one, of a resemblance to an orangutan."
After he came under harsh criticism, even from members of his own party who called for his resignation, Calderoli offered a qualified apology: "I did not mean to offend and if minister Kyenge was offended I am sorry, but my comment was made within a much broader political speech that criticized the minister and her policies."
He later called Kyenge and apologized, but dropped the remark that it would have been better if she had become a minister "in her own country."
The comment provoked a reaction from Prime Minister Enrico Letta, who said Calderoli had gone "beyond all limits." Letta added: "Full solidarity and support to Cecile. Forward with your and our work."
Another member of Calderoli's Northern League party Mario Borghezio, accused Kyenge of attempting to impose "tribal traditions" in Italy.
Italian police have launched an investigation into the banana throwing incident. Meanwhile, Forza Nuoza has denied that its member threw the bananas.
Kyenge has so far maintained a "dignified silence" in the face of hostility and abuse, the Telegraph notes.
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