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France joins pressure for action over Mediterranean migrant shipwrecks

Some of the 28 rescued migrants arrive in Catania in Sicily
Some of the 28 rescued migrants arrive in Catania in Sicily Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi

French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius cut short a trip to the US on Monday to attend a meeting with his European counterparts in Luxembourg to discuss the EU's reaction to the sinking of migrant boats in the Mediterranean, following the feared death of some 700 in a disaster this weekend. Interior Minister cancelled a meeting on fighting terrorism on the internet to go.

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Fabius, who arrived in Washington on Saturday, cancelled meetings scheduled for Monday to rush back to Europe for a meeting that he said might be enlarged to include interior ministers.

The ministers were meeting in the aftermath of the sinking of a fishing boat reportedly carrying some 700 migrants, of whom only were confirmed to have been rescued, off the coast of Libya.

Two other boats sank during the week causing about 450 deaths. Following calls from French President François Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, European Council president Donald Tusk said Sunday he would consult European leaders with a view to organising an emergency summit on how to prevent further tragedies.

Rights groups such as Amnesty International are calling for the restoration of Italy's Mare Nostrum search-and-rescue operation, which was suspended at the end of last year when European countries refused to help in its nine-million-euro monthly operating costs.

Mare Nostrum has been replaced by a much smaller EU-run operation called Triton.

But Hollande and French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve put the emphasis on chasing people traffickers and reducing the numbers of migrants heading for Europe.

"It is particularly important to take determined action to reduce the flow of migrants upstream and beef up the fight against criminal networks, who are shamelessly exploiting the migrants' desperation," Cazeneuve said in a statement.

On Monday he cancelled a meeting to discuss fighting recruitment by terror networks with internet operators to go to Luxembourg.

Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Federica Mogherini said she would present a "series of propositions concerning Libya", a transit point for Africans heading for Europe and a source of refugees due to war between rival factions.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called on Europe to take "diplomatic initiatives to peacefully resolve the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Libya".

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