Italian Senate votes to lift right-wing leader's immunity

Italy Senate gives go-ahead to Salvini migrant trial

The League remains easily Italy's largest party with more than 30% support, the latest polls say, but a defeat in a key regional election last month frustrated Salvini's latest effort to bring down the Rome government and return to power.

The Italian Senate will vote on Wednesday (12 February) whether the far-right leader Matteo Salvini should be brought to court for "kidnapping" 131 migrants a year ago, when as the interior minister he prevented them from disembarking but forced them to stay aboard the Gregoretti coastguard ship.

A court in Sicily has recommended that former interior minister Salvini stand trial for blocking migrants on a coast guard boat last July. Standing trial will allow him to portray himself as a victim of politically motivated persecution in the case, but a guilty verdict could hamper his chances to run for prime minister in future elections.

He has said that, as in other such cases, his decision was made with the rest of the government he was then part of.

Salvini has repeatedly said he wants to go to court.

On February 27, a Senate committee will rule on whether to charge him with "detaining" 107 migrants on an NGO boat in Sicily, between August 14 and 20, 2019.

Under Italian law, former ministers can't be tried for actions undertaken while in office unless parliament authorizes it.

"I want to be proud of what I did, with my head held high", Salvini told reporters earlier Wednesday as the Senate deliberated, according to the Associated Press.

Most of the rescued migrants were thus blocked on board the Gregoretti, which docked at a Sicilian port for six days, until other European Union (EU) countries agreed to accept some of them.

"I have defended Italy". After the Senate vote, he compared his predicament to that of US President Donald Trump, who accuses opponents of impeaching him because of partisan politics and because they lost at the ballot box.

Calling the case politically motivated, Salvini said, "I can't take being called a criminal anymore, there's a limit to everything", Ansa news agency reported.

Whatever the outcome of Wednesday's session, though, Salvini will have to face another indictment vote on similar allegations.

As foreign minister, Salvini launched a crackdown on unauthorized migration, something he linked to increased crime. Salvini's League party is now in the opposition.

The Gregoretti investigation echoes another case from earlier a year ago when magistrates sought to try Salvini over his decision to keep 150 migrants aboard a coastguard ship for five days in August 2018.

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