updated 7/27/2008 3:46:19 PM ET 2008-07-27T19:46:19

Italy's center-right government defended itself Sunday from criticism of a so-called state of emergency enacted this week to crack down on illegal immigration.

The government extended measures already in place in the southern regions of Puglia, Sicily and Calabria to the whole country Friday. The measures give authorities the ability to more easily overcome bureaucracy, for example, to set up new immigrant detention centers.

Political opponents and human rights groups have criticized the government in recent months, saying some of the measures are xenophobic and anti-immigrant — including plans to fingerprint Roma, or Gypsies.

The Vatican official who oversees the pope's migrant council, the Rev. Agostino Marchetto, called on the government to respect human rights.

Interior Ministry official Alfredo Mantovano, however, said the measures enacted Friday were the same as ones that have been approved in previous years and that they were necessary, for example, to create new immigration detention centers, according to an interview published Sunday in Milan daily Corriere della Sera.

Corriere also reported that another 10 centers to identify and expel illegal immigrants would be set up in Italy as a result of the emergency declaration, doubling the current number.

Roberto Calderoli, a minister in Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government, said the declaration gives officials the flexibility they need to deal with illegal immigration.

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