ROME, July 15 (UPI) -- Italian lawmaker Roberto Calderoli said Monday his comparing Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge to an orangutan came from his love for animals, not racism.
Calderoli, the deputy senate speaker and a Northern League official told the Italian daily newspaper Il Corriere della Sera his weekend comparison of Kyenge, born in Democratic Republic of the Congo, to an orangutan was "an aesthetic judgment, not meant to be racist."
During a festival near his home city of Bergamo, Calderoli said, "When I see her [Kyenge's] pictures, I can't help but think of her resemblance to an orangutan."
Prime Minister Enrico Letta called Calderoli's comments "unacceptable" and "beyond every limit," while expressing support for Kyenge.
Calderoli telephoned Kyenge to apologize, ANSA reported.
Lombardy Governor and Northern League leader Roberto Maroni said the senator had "done well to do so," adding that the comments were fueled by "immigration policies proposed by Kyenge that are not only wrong, they contribute to the uncontrollable influx of immigration" into Italy.