Letta slams politician who called Italian minister "orangutan"
At a rally of his anti-immigration Northern League party in Treviglio on Saturday, Roberto Calderoli said the Congolese-born immigration minister "made him think of an orangutan."
The prime minister rebuked the comments by Calderoli, who is also vice president of the Senate.
Letta offered Kyenge his "solidarity and support."
Calderoli also attacked Kyenge's expressed desire to open Italy to further African immigration and to grant citizenship to immigrants. He said: "She could be a minister - in her own country."
The remarks sparked a storm of controversy with outraged politicians calling for Calderoli's resignation, including those from his own socially conservative Northern League party.
Letta said in a communiqué Sunday: "The words reported today in the press attributed to Senator Calderoli regarding Cecile Kyenge are unacceptable and go beyond all limits. "Khalid Chaouki and Gianni Cuperlo, two lawmakers from the centre-left Democratic Party, demanded the resignation of Calderoni, who is deputy speaker of the Senate.
On Sunday, Calderoli apologized for the remark, calling it a "joke."
Kyenge, who arrived in Italy in 1983 to train as an ophthalmologist, said she did not take the comments personally, but "I worry for the image we are giving Italy."
The number of foreign-born in Italy has grown from about 2 per cent in 1990 to more than 7 per cent today.
Calderoli is famous for his provocative comments and actions. In 2006, he was forced to resign from the government of then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi after wearing a T-shirt printed with cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed.
Since the Democratic Republic of Congo-born Kyenge took up her post as integration minister earlier this year she has faced numerous expressions of hostility from the Northern League, which is allied with Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom party but is now in opposition.
She has been the subject of verbal slurs and death threats posted on racist social media sites and even on her own Facebook page.
Voice of Russia, AFP, dpa