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By Reuters

Austria outlined plans Wednesday to erect a fence at a border crossing with Italy that is a vital link between northern and southern Europe, escalating a stand-off over how to handle a migration crisis.

Migrants are crossing the Mediterranean Sea from Africa to Italy in growing numbers, and Austria has said Rome must stop them from traveling onward toward northern Europe or it will have to introduce border controls at the Brenner Pass in the Alps.

Riot police clashed with protesters this week during a rally against the Austrian government's planned introduction of border controls at the Brenner Pass with Italy.Jan Hetfleisch / EPA

But with Austrian preparations for controls already under way, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Austria's move was "shamelessly against European rules, as well as being against history, against logic and against the future."

Austrian police in the Alpine province of Tyrol, which borders northern Italy, presented plans to install facilities at Brenner to inspect vehicles and process migrants in the event formal controls are introduced.

Building work on some of the facilities at Brenner began two weeks ago.

"A security fence of 370 meters (1,220 feet) is planned," a Tyrol police spokesman said, adding that the fence was part of a system aimed at channeling migrants in the deep valley that the Brenner Pass runs through.

Related: Austria to Build Border Fence to Control Flow of Migrants

Whether the fence is built, however, will depend on the outcome of talks Thursday in Rome between Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka and his Italian counterpart, the spokesman said.

Austria has taken an increasingly hard line on how to deal with the hundreds of thousands of asylum-seeking migrants, many of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere, who have poured into Europe over the past year.

The Brenner Pass is the busiest route through the Alps for heavy goods vehicles, and any controls there would slow traffic on an important corridor to Germany, Italy's top trading partner.

"The construction work will be completed with or without a fence by the end of May," the Tyrol police spokesman said, adding that border controls could be introduced before or after then.