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Illegal immigrants arrive in Italy

ROME, Italy -- More that 560 illegal immigrants have safely reached shore in Italy after being set adrift in the Adriatic Sea.

Their rusting, Turkish-registered ship was towed by a coastguard vessel after passengers sent out a mayday call on Saturday night.

A total of 562 immigrants, including 63 children, were on board, coastguard official Lieutenant Vincenzo Amanti said.

"They are mostly Kurds, Sri Lankans, Iraquis and Iranians," he added.

An ill child and a pregnant woman were rushed to a hospital when they docked, RAI state television reported.

Rescue workers wearing surgical masks to guard against possible disease helped passengers climb down an improvised gangplank to the dock.

They were then taken to immigration reception areas.

Police said the ship's crew had set the ship adrift, possibly fearing capture, shortly before passengers sent the mayday call.

Police suspect two of the passengers of being crew members, said Gallipoli's commander of paramilitary police, Gerardo Petitto, Reuters news agency reported.

Immigrants often come ashore along Italy's long, poorly patrolled coastline.

The European Union has put pressure on Turkey, Italy and Balkan countries to work together and try to halt the flood of illegal immigrants into Europe.

Last summer, Italian authorities lodged a formal protest with Turkey after police intercepted a ship off Italy's southern coast carrying 418 migrants.

As of 1998, Italy was home to 1.25 million legal immigrants, according to the OECD.

Switzerland housed1.35 million, Germany 7.32 million, France 3.6 million and the UK 2.21 million.

Illegal immigration has become a high-profile issue in the run-up to the May 13 general election in Italy.



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