UGLY: Bananas, Taunts, Death Threats As Italy Appoints First Black Minister

UGLY: Bananas, Taunts, Death Threats As Italy Appoints First Black Minister

UGLY: Bananas, Taunts, Death Threats As Italy Appoints First Black Minister

Kyenge's appointment as Italy's minister of integration three months ago isn't sitting well with right-wing radicals whose racial slurs and antics have overshadowed her tenure. Racist taunts against Italy's first black minister, Cecile Kyenge, took another ugly turn over the weekend when someone hurled bananas at her during a rally.

The banana incident is just the latest.

It took place Friday in Cervia, where Kyenge was speaking to supporters. A man popped up out of the crowd and launched two bananas toward the podium, Kyenge spokesman Cosimo Torlo said.

The bananas fell short of the stage, landing between the first and second row of spectators.

Police haven't found the person who hurled the bananas. There will be increased security around the minister.

Kyenge shrugged off the episode -- as she has with the other incidents. In a Twitter post, she called it a sad waste of food when so many people are dying of hunger.

Kyenge, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, moved to Italy in the 1980s to study medicine. She became an Italian citizen and is an ophthalmologist in Modena.

While her ascent to a top government position reflects the success of immigrants, it also has stoked nativism.

Ominous mannequins

Just before Kyenge arrived for Friday's rally, a group smeared blood-red paint and anti-immigrant messages onto mannequins.

"Immigration kills," read signs attached to the dummies.

The far-right political group Forza Nuova ("New Force") claimed responsibility for the mannequins.

The scene was also littered with fliers that said Italy's future growth depends on "protecting the Italian identity," according to the ANSA news agency.

Insults from other politicians

Two weeks ago, Italian Sen. Roberto Calderoli likened Kyenge to an orangutan. Calderoli, a member of the anti-immigration Northern League party, made the remarks at a political rally.

"I love animals -- bears and wolves, as everyone knows -- but when I see the pictures of Kyenge, I cannot but think of, even if I'm not saying she is one, the features of an orangutan," he was quoted as saying.

After his comments were published, Calderoli said "if I've offended her, I apologize."

"It was a joke, a comment in a joking way. There was nothing particularly against her," he said. "It was just my impression. ... It is all very well that she be a minister but in her own country. Given that this government needs to govern Italy, I hope that it is done by Italians."

Kyenge responded diplomatically, saying Calderoli "does not need to ask forgiveness to me, but he should rather reflect on the political and institutional role that he carries. It is on this that he needs to make a profound reflection also to then apologize."

She added, "Also, he must go beyond putting everything on a personal level. I think the time has come for us to study the problem of communication."

Death threats

Kyenge has also received death threats before visiting an area where the Northern League is powerful.

A local politician recently said on Facebook that Kyenge should be raped so she can understand the pain felt by victims of crime, which some politicians blame on immigrants.

She's been called a "Congolese monkey," "Zulu" and "the black anti-Italian." One Northern League official said "she seems like a great housekeeper" but "not a government minister."

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta appealed to Northern League leader Roberto Maroni to "close this chapter right away."

Italy has been experiencing its highest level of unemployment in more than 20 years.

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