ROME - The vice president of Italy's Senate rejected calls for his resignation Tuesday for making a racist slur against Italy's first black Cabinet minister, but said he was sorry and would send her flowers to make amends.
Roberto Calderoli, a leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League, has been criticized by Italy's president, premier and a host of ministers and lawmakers for comparing the Congolese-born integration minister, Cecile Kyenge, to an orangutan.
Premier Enrico Letta's Democratic Party called for his resignation, and the premier himself warned the League to put an end to such racist attacks.
Kyenge has been targeted by 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.
Calderoli told a League rally over the weekend that when he thought of Kyenge, an orangu- tan came to mind.
Calderoli on Tuesday asked the Senate to accept his apologies and said he would have resigned had a majority of Senate leaders asked for it.
He said Kyenge had accepted his apologies, and he said he would follow the suggestion of colleagues by sending her a bouquet of flowers.
"I said something foolish, and I recognize that," Calderoli told the Senate.
Kyenge declined once again to respond to the insult. She acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press that she has become a "lightning rod" in Italy's racism debate, but said she doesn't take the attacks personally.
She urged those who have issues with race to "translate your discomfort into a different language, not a violent one, but a message that might improve the system."