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Germany urges EU operation against people smugglers

Germany`s vice chancellor on Sunday called for European action against human traffickers after a refugee boat shipwreck in the Mediterranean was feared to have claimed 700 lives.

Berlin: Germany`s vice chancellor on Sunday called for European action against human traffickers after a refugee boat shipwreck in the Mediterranean was feared to have claimed 700 lives.

"All European police and border authorities must make every possible effort to fight the criminal trafficking gangs who profit from human misery," said Sigmar Gabriel.

"We need an international operation against people smugglers."

Gabriel spoke after the overnight capsize of a packed fishing boat that was attempting to smuggle hundreds of migrants from Libya to Italy.

"We must no longer accept that Europe on its outer borders too often means death, not humanity," he said.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said a Europol team was already looking at the trafficking gangs, because we must "not tolerate that these criminals sacrifice human lives en masse out of sheer greed".

Germany`s integration commissioner Aydan Ozoguz said it had been an "illusion" to think that ending the "Mare Nostrum" sea rescue programme would deter people from attempting the perilous sea journey.

She said warmer temperatures in coming weeks could mean more refugee ships and that "that`s why we must relaunch the rescue programme".

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said part of the answer would have to be "to try to bring more stability to Libya" to help the North African country crack down on traffickers.

Illegal immigration, mostly from Africa, has rapidly expanded with ruthless people smugglers based in chaotic Libya taking overcrowded, unseaworthy boats across the Mediterranean, mostly to Italy and Greece.

Southern EU countries have complained that they are bearing too much of the brunt of the rescue work and processing of migrants.

The latest shipwreck took place between Libya and Malta and, if the toll is confirmed, would be easily the biggest such disaster to date.