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Italy’s League party votes for Salvini to stand trial in migrant ‘kidnap’ case

The anti-immigrant League party has voted in favour of its leader Matteo Salvini standing trial for allegedly “kidnapping” migrants at sea, while the party's opponents abstained from the vote.

Italy's League party votes for Salvini to stand trial in migrant 'kidnap' case
League party leader Matteo Salvini at a rally with a banner reading "Proud Italian" Photo: AFP

An Italian senate committee voted on Monday to strip former interior minister Matteo Salvini of his parliamentary immunity, opening the way for him to stand trial for allegedly illegally detaining migrants last year.

Salvini, head of the right-wing populist League party, wrote on Facebook ahead of the vote that it would be “a trial against the Italian people”.

READ ALSO: Political cheat sheet: Understanding Italy's Northern League

The ruling followed the recommendation by a court in Sicily that Salvini stand trial for blocking migrants on a coastguard boat last July.

Under Italian law ministers cannot be tried for actions taken in office unless a parliamentary committee gives the go-ahead.

Salvini called on League senators to vote in favour of the trial, “so we can clear this up once and for all”.

The League senators on the committee voted in favour of stripping Salvini's immunity, while those from the other right and centre-right opposition parties voted against.

Opponents in the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and anti-establishment Five Star movement (M5S) boycotted the vote.

They accused Salvini of using the incident to win support ahead of a key regional election by portraying himself as a man hounded by the government and law courts merely for doing his job.

League party leader Matteo Salvini at a local election rally in Bologna. Photo: AFP

The final decision rests with the Senate, which will be called to give its opinion in a vote likely to be held in February, Italian media said.

Should Salvini go to trial, he faces up to 15 years in jail if found guilty.

Salvini had refused to allow 131 rescued migrants off the Gregoretti coastguard boat until a deal was reached with other European states to host them.

A court in Catania accused him of “abuse of power” in blocking those saved on board from July 27 to July 31.

READ ALSO: 

Salvini insists that was not an individual decision, but one backed by the government, includng current Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Prosecutors in Sicily opened a probe into conditions on board the boat, where migrants shared one toilet between them.

This is the second time the League leader has risked trial over detaining migrants.

Last year a court ruled that he should be tried for preventing 177 migrants from disembarking the Diciotti coastguard ship, but the senate voted to defend his parliamentary immunity.

The then-interior minister's “closed ports” policy, aimed at stopping migrant arrivals from war-torn Libya, saw his popularity numbers shoot up.

Italy has long complained it has been abandoned by Europe to deal with migrant arrivals alone.

“If I have to go to jail for defending an idea, I'll go with my head held high,” Salvini told a rally in the region of Emilia Romagna.

READ ALSO: Thousands rally against far right in Bologna ahead of regional elections

The region, a traditional stronghold of the left, goes to the polls on Sunday, pitting the ruling coalition parties – PD and M5S – against the League.

Salvini's anti-immigrant party has a strong lead in national polls, and is now betting on a victory in Emilia Romagna – where it is now polling neck and neck with the left-wing candidate – being damaging enough to bring down the government and trigger elections.

Salvini takes a selfie with Emilia-Romagna's regional candidate Lucia Borgonzoni at a rally in Bologna. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.

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