Italy's first black minister has shrugged off racist slurs on her appointment as integration minister in the new coalition government by saying she was proud to be black.
At her first press conference as a cabinet minister on the newly formed government of Enrico Letta, Cecile Kyenge said she was of mixed Italian and Congolese origin and was black - not coloured.
"I've seen that there have been some difficulties in describing me so [I tell you that] I am Italo-Congolese and black," Kyenge said.
"I'm not coloured, I'm black. It is important to say it as I'm proud of being so. I belong to two different cultures and to two different countries that are both part of me, so that I cannot be described as completely Italian or Congolese."
Born in Kambove in the south of the Democratic Rrepublic of the Congo, Kyenge arrived in Italy in the 80s to study medicine and went on to become an ophthalmologist in Modena.
Her appointment as minister was hailed as a big step on Italy's difficult path towards integration but was marred by racist attacks by politicians and members of neo-fascist internet groups.
"Kyenge wants to impose Congolese tribal customs in Italy," Northern League MEP Mario Borghezio told Radio 24.
"In Italy you are not allowed to pronounce the word n****r, you can only think it. Soon even [the expression] illegal immigrant won't be allowed any more. We will be forced to say Your Excellency," Borghezio added.
Racist insults were also posted online on far-right websites.
Laura Boldrini, the speaker in the lower chamber of parliament, denounced the insults as "shameful" for the country.
"Racism has long been a problem in Italy," Council of Europe human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks saod.
"Authorities need to send a strong signal to show that this kind of attack cannot exist in a democratic society because they undermine its very essence".