Italy Senate votes for far-right leader Salvini to face trial

Matteo Salvini

Matteo Salvini

The vote fell 84 short of the number needed to overturn a Senate commission's decision last month to lift Salvini's immunity.

However, the head of the populist League party said that he defended Italy when he blocked the entrance of this, and other, boats to the Italian ports. After the tally was announced in the Italian Senate, Salvini compared himself to US President Donald Trump who was also impeached by the Democrats in the House of Representatives but just recently acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate.

"I swore on the Constitution, which says that defending the nation is every citizen's duty". "He has a few more billions and a few more years, but it's a bad little habit of the left, going around in the world, to try to win by judicial means".

In his 14 months at the interior ministry, Salvini made tackling migrant boats a priority, barring ports to them and threatening charities operating them with fees.

A court in Sicily has recommended that former interior minister Salvini stand trial for blocking migrants on a coast guard boat last July.

"The minister (Salvini) had a new decree approved which strengthened his powers", Conte said in January.

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Opinion surveys have tagged Salvini as one of Italy's most popular leaders.

The Senate's decision sends the chief of the anti-immigrant League party to trial for abuse of power and illegal detention, charges for which he faces up to 15 years in jail.

Given the slow pace of the Italian justice system, Salvini faces no immediate risk. He professed confidence in the "neutrality" of magistrates "because I believe that what I have done was in the interest of the Italian people".

Last December, the Italian court of ministers in Catania, Sicily, ruled that Salvini should be tried for allegedly depriving the asylum seekers on board the Gregoretti coast guard ship of their liberty by refusing to allow them to leave. Similar standoffs played out in the Mediterranean Sea during the anti-immigration stance Salvini took as interior minister.

The Gregoretti investigation echoes another case from earlier previous year when magistrates sought to try Salvini over his decision to keep 150 migrants aboard a coastguard ship for five days in August 2018. With Salvini's party and allies in the opposition, the motion could pass, leaving him open for trial.

In July, two weeks before he abandoned a coalition with the 5-Star Movement, he refused to let migrants disembark from the Gregoretti coastguard vessel, ignoring pleas from human rights groups to let the group come ashore.

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