As Tunisian migrants begin to arrive, Italy fears 'epic emergency'

More than 4,000 Tunisian migrants have arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa in since the fall of longtime strongman Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

On Saturday Italy declared a humanitarian emergency and called for EU assistance.

A spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Simona Moscarelli, said Italy must fly migrants from Lampedusa to the Italian mainland as soon as possible.

"It's quite a critical situation. That's why we are asking the government to organise as many trips, as many flights as possible," she told the BBC's World Today programme, by phone from Lampedusa.

She described the migrants as "a mixed flow" - some were fleeing insecurity in Tunisia, following last month's uprising there, while others were seizing the chance to get to Europe to find work.

There appears to have been some miscommunication between Rome and Brussels as to whether Italy actually asked for help.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi signed a bilateral deal with Ben Ali in 2009 under which the Tunisian leader pledged to keep emigration from his own country, as well as the rest of Africa, under control. The new government has promised to continue the policy, but Italy isn't taking any chances. A state of emergency has been declared, and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni from the anti-immigrant Northern League party has now called for a special EU summit to discuss the "epic emergency" resulting from the revolutions in North Africa.

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Hu Shuli's Caixin editorial on Egypt

Much is now being made of what China's state-run media isn't saying about the popular revolutions in the Middle East, which is hardly surprising.

But what is rather striking -- bold and courageous -- is the following Feb. 14 editorial published by the Chinese news and finance media company Caixin, which has recently been revamped under daring Editor in Chief Hu Shuli. As context, the opening lines are reacting to the common suggestion in the Chinese press that Egypt's uprising has led to dangerous "social instability."

Autocracy creates instability; democratic deliberations lead to peace. Support for the replacement of an authoritarian regime would only serve short-term interests. Only the establishment of democratic institutions in the Middle East will form a fundamental basis for long-term stability.

Recently, the Arab world has experienced a tide of democratic expectations. But the situation in Egypt is particularly striking. On February 11, President Hosni Mubarak agreed to give up power and transfer authority to the military's leadership. The Egyptian army issued a statement on the same day that it would ensure a smooth and orderly transfer of power and ensure that the upcoming presidential elections in September will be free, fair, and transparent …

The rest of the editorial (in Chinese) can be read at the magazine's web site here. The author(s) examine everything from the role of U.S. pressure on Mubarak to questions about whether a democratic Egypt will become Islamist -- a fear they largely dismiss.

Although it's hard to read without thinking of the implications for China, the article, tellingly, never explicitly mentions China or domestic politics.

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