The Latest: Malta contests Italian PM's account of rescue

AP

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BRUSSELS (AP) The Latest on Europe's response to mass migration (all times local):

4:30 p.m.

Malta is contesting the Italian premier's assertion that it had responsibility for a group of nearly 180 migrants eventually picked up by an Italian coast guard ship and brought to Italy.

The Maltese government called Giuseppe Conte's remarks while testifying before lawmakers on Wednesday "inaccurate."

It said in a statement: "The Italian government clearly bears full responsibility for the disembarkation" in Italy under international and European Union law.

The government says the boat carrying the migrants last month had refused assistance, and "given that it was on the high seas, Malta could not intercept the vessel with force."

It added that Maltese authorities continued to monitor it closely.

The migrants were blocked from getting off the boat until other EU nations agreed to take a number of them.

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10:25 a.m.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker wants to beef up the EU's coast guard and asylum agency to better police Europe's outside borders and speed the deportation of unauthorized migrants.

Juncker told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France, Wednesday that "external borders must be protected more effectively."

He says the executive Commission is proposing a standing corps for the border and coast guard agency numbering 10,000 staff, including guards and migration experts.

The force would be fully operational by 2020 and Juncker says it should be funded by some 2.2 billion euros in EU money.

EU nations still have to endorse the proposal. Many nations have expressed concern at the idea of having their borders policed by staff from other countries, even if they are European partners.

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