By Catherine Hornby
ROME, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Italy's first black minister has pulled out of a debate with the anti-immigrant Northern League after its leader refused to condemn a barrage of racial insults she has faced from his party's members.
Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge, who wants to make it easier for immigrants to gain Italian citizenship, was due to discuss the issue with Veneto Governor Luca Zaia at a Northern League festival near Cervia on the Adriatic Coast on Saturday.
Kyenge, an Italian citizen born in Democratic Republic of Congo, was speaking at a rally in Cervia last Friday when an audience member threw bananas at her, a few weeks after a Northern League senator compared her to an orangutan.
It is unclear who threw the bananas, which narrowly missed the stage where Kyenge was speaking. Local prosecutors have opened an investigation into the incident.
Since her appointment to Prime Minister Enrico Letta's left-right coalition government in April, Kyenge, an eye doctor, has been the target of racist and sexist slurs, many from League members.
In June, a local League councillor suggested Kyenge should be raped so she could know how victims of crimes committed by immigrants feel. The councillor has received a suspended jail sentence and a ban from holding public office.
Kyenge is backing a law that would automatically make anyone born on Italian soil a citizen. A Northern League member of the European Parliament, Mario Borghezio, has accused her of wanting to impose "tribal traditions" in Italy.
This week Kyenge appealed to League leader Roberto Maroni to speak out against the insults after local councillors from the party in Cantu, north of Milan, walked out of a meeting to protest her attendance.
Letta has also demanded that the Northern League take action, saying the insults were damaging Italy's standing abroad.
Maroni has so far refused to speak out, so Kyenge's office said on Thursday she would no longer be attending the immigration debate.
Kyenge "remains open to dialogue and confrontation, as long as the right conditions exist for it," her office said.
League parliamentarian Gianluca Pini said in a statement that the party was "very disappointed" with her decision as they had wanted a "civil and frank" discussion on immigration. (Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
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In this file photo taken on June 19 2013, Italian Integration Minister Cecile Kashetu Kyenge listens to a question during a press conference at the Foreign Press Club in Rome. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
In this Tuesday, July 16, 2013 photo, Italian Senate Vice President Roberto Calderoli, left, shakes hands with Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge, inside the Senate, in Rome. (AP Photo/Mauro Scrobogna, Lapresse)
Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge speaks during a meeting on immigration, in her office in Rome, Tuesday, July 16, 2013. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge reacts during a press conference on July 16, 2013 in Rome. (ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Italian Integration Minister Cecile Kashetu Kyenge listens to a question during a press conference at the Foreign Press Club in Rome, Wednesday, June 19, 2013. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
Italian Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge talks to the press on June 18, 2013 on the sidelines of a International Organization for Migration meeting at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. (BORIS HEGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Italian Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge talks to the press on June 18, 2013 on the sidelines of a International Organization for Migration meeting at United Nations headquarters in Geneva. (BORIS HEGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Italian Integration Minister Cecile Kashetu Kyenge poses for photographers at the end of a press conference in Rome, Friday, May 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)