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France, Italy call for Schengen treaty reforms

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The French and Italian leaders called on Tuesday for the EU to reform its Schengen treaty following a dispute over a recent influx of immigrants from North Africa.

The French and Italian leaders called on Tuesday for the EU to reform its Schengen treaty following a dispute over a recent influx of immigrants from North Africa.

France has been angered by Italy granting visas to largely French-speaking migrants fleeing unrest in North Africa, allowing them to travel freely within the Schengen border-free zone.

"We want Schengen to live, but for Schengen to live it must be reformed," French President Nikolas Sarkozy told reporters after a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome.

The French leader proposed strengthening the EU's Frontex agency, which manages the EU's external borders.

French media said on Friday that Paris was considering suspending its commitments to the treaty.

Recent upheavals across North Africa and the Middle East have triggered a wave of migration to Europe. About 22,000 Tunisians have already arrived in Italy in the hope of being able to cross the border to France.

They are mainly on the Italian Island of Lampedusa, 20 km from the Tunisian coast. The island houses an immigration center, which is one of the main entry-points for migrants to Europe.

Trains carrying Tunisian refugees and European human rights activists from Italy were temporarily denied entry to France on April 17.

Berlusconi said the two leaders had sent a joint letter to the European Commission outlining their proposals.

"No one wants to block the Schengen agreement, but changes need to be made under exceptional circumstances," Berlusconi said. "We'll work on this together."

The Schengen Treaty allows visitors to most EU countries to travel freely with a single visa and only minimal border checks.

BRUSSELS, April 26 (RIA Novosti)

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