ROME — Calls mounted Monday for the Senate vice president to resign after he compared Italy’s first black Cabinet minister to an orangutan, with the Italian premier lamenting that the country had been ‘‘shamed’’ by such insults and demanding they stop immediately.
Roberto Calderoli, a leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League, has insisted he was only joking when he made the ‘‘aesthetic’’ comment about Cecile Kyenge at a League rally last weekend.
He told the Corriere della Sera newspaper on Monday that he compares all his colleagues to animals and that what he says at a political rally shouldn’t have any bearing on his work as the Senate No. 2.
Kyenge, a Congolese-born eye doctor, has been insulted with racist slurs from the Northern League ever since she was named integration minister in April. One Northern League politician has called her a Congolese ‘‘monkey,’’ while another has said she deserved to be raped.
Kyenge responded to Calderoli’s latest insult by saying it’s not for her to demand his resignation but for Italians to reflect on the merits of public office-holders.
Premier Enrico Letta, though, told League leader Roberto Maroni to put an end to the slurs from within his party ranks. ‘‘I think we’ve had enough shame so far,’’ Letta said.