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The Latest: Macron distinguishes refugees from migrants

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TRIESTE, Italy (AP) — The Latest on the European Union summit with Western Balkan countries hoping to join the bloc (all times local):

8:50 p.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron is acknowledging France hasn't done its part in welcoming migrants during the influx Europe has experience during the last several years.

But Macron says there is a "profound" distinction that must be made between economic migrants and refugees fleeing war or persecution at home.

He was speaking Wednesday after meeting with Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of an EU-Balkans summit.

Macron says France is accelerating its process to welcome legitimate refugees. But he says his country cannot take in all the people who want to come to Europe for economic reasons.

Gentiloni has insisted other European countries need to do more to relieve the migration burden on Italy. But he says Macron is right in making a distinction between economic migrants and refugees who are guaranteed international protection.


8:15 p.m.

Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni is warning that the European Union must keep its doors open to eventual membership of Western Balkan countries or risk allowing Russia and other global powers to increase their influence in the region.

Gentiloni said EU enlargement "isn't around the corner" but said it nevertheless must be held out as a concrete possibility for aspirants Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

Gentiloni was speaking at the end of the fourth EU-Western Balkans summit, held Wednesday in Trieste.

He says Italy and Germany, the biggest regional trading partners, cannot allow others to fill the void that would be created if the EU remains closed to new members.

Gentiloni says: "Naturally there are other regional or global powers that are very interested in having an influence in this region."


5:20 p.m.

The European Union's interest in shoring up relations with Western Balkan countries has been fueled by reports of growing influence by Russia in a region that Moscow considers a traditional area of interest.

Russian efforts have been mostly visible in Serbia, with Moscow-funded news outlets and boosted economic and military ties. Serbia remains Russia's last remaining ally after another historic partner, Montenegro, made a decisive turn toward the West by joining NATO this year.

The EU also fears renewed instability in the Balkans, which went through a bloodbath during its 1990s ethnic wars.

European Union leaders and their Western Balkan counterparts pressed Wednesday for continued economic integration amid Russia's increasing influence in the region and the EU's own troubles with Brexit, migration and security fears.


1:50 p.m.

European Union leaders are meeting with their Western Balkan counterparts to press ahead with economic integration amid Russia's increasing influence in the region and the EU's own troubles with Brexit, migration and security fears.

Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni is hosting Wednesday's summit, the fourth since German Chancellor Angela Merkel launched the series of annual meetings with EU aspirants Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

The European Commission is expected to announce new funding to boost economic growth in the region. Balkan leaders, meanwhile, are expected to sign a treaty on integrating their transport networks, and adopt a plan to create a regional economic area.

The EU is keen to show it is still interested in the Balkans even though the official enlargement process is on hold until 2019.

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