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EU leaders thrash out response to Mediterranean migrant crisis

EU leaders have gathered to discuss ways to address migration and the growing number of deaths in the Mediterranean, which could include military action. The UN has urged the bloc to improve its humanitarian response.

European leaders in Brussels were expected to consider a range of measures as they gathered on Thursday,

including the use of military force

to destroy ships used for trafficking.

Proposals at the extraordinary meeting are also believed to address the rescue, resettlement and repatriation of those who make the treacherous journey by boat from North Africa to southern Europe.

Chancellor Angela Merkel on arrival

repeated that Europe's values and credibility in the rest of the world were on the line

, cautioning that there was still a "huge amount to do."

A draft statement obtained by the Associated Press news agency pledged the 28 member states to "increase search and rescue possibilities" and to "undertake systematic efforts to capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers."

'Europe is declaring war'

The statement said EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini would, upon approval, begin to immediately prepare an operation against the smugglers that would have a military component.

"We will take action now. Europe is declaring war on smugglers," said the EU's chief migration official, Dimitris Avramopoulos, ahead of the meeting.

The statement said nations would "set up a first voluntary pilot project on resettlement, offering at least 5,000 places to persons qualifying for protection."

The document was said to contain a target to cut the amount of time needed to process migrants from as much as a year at present to as little as two months.

Increased naval presence planned

A copy seen by Reuters envisaged "strengthening our presence at sea," which involved "at least doubling" financing for the EU's naval presence.

Leaders are

under pressure to act,

with more than 10,000 people rescued from the sea between Italy and Libya in a week.

Underlining the global attention to the crisis, the United Nations on Thursday criticized Europe's response so far to the crisis, urging it to do more.

"The European Union response needs to go beyond the present minimalist approach ... which focuses primarily on stemming the arrival of migrants and refugees on its shores," a UN statement said.

Malta on Thursday honored the estimated 800 people who died at the weekend in the

worst individual migrant disaster

, with an interfaith funeral service for 24 of them. Wooden coffins of the dead were laid on a red carpet outside the Mater Dei hospital in the capital, Valletta, and taken by Maltese soldiers for private burials.

rc/sms (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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