Italy's Matteo Salvini faces new trial risk over migrant rescue standoff

Italy's Matteo Salvini faces new trial risk over migrant rescue standoff
Italy's Matteo Salvini faces new trial risk over migrant rescue standoff

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - A special tribunal has recommended that former Italian interior minister and hardline League party leader Matteo Salvini face trial for holding scores of migrants on board a coastguard ship docked in a port in Sicily in July.

In a court document seen by Reuters, Sicilian magistrates ask parliament for authorisation to continue their investigation into Mr Salvini for alleged kidnapping, saying he abused his powers and "deprived 131 migrants of personal liberty".

In July, Mr Salvini, then interior minister, ordered the migrants, including children, remain on board the Italian coastguard ship Gregoretti until other European countries agreed to take most of them in.

"Investigated because I defended the security, the borders and the dignity of my country, unbelievable," the anti-migrant leader said in a statement. He called the investigation "shameful".

During his 14 months at the interior ministry, Mr Salvini staked his credibility on a pledge to halt migrant flows, blocking Italian ports to rescue ships and threatening the charities operating them with fines.

The investigation echoes another case earlier this year.

In February, when the League party was in government with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, parliament rejected a magistrates' request to pursue a kidnapping probe into Mr Salvini for refusing permission to disembark for some 150 migrants on a coastguard ship stranded off Sicily.

On that occasion the 5-Star Movement, which had always criticised the practice of halting judicial proceedings against politicians, rescued Mr Salvini and blocked the investigation after weeks of tension within the government.

But things have now changed. The League walked out of government in August and 5-Star have formed a new coalition with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which strongly opposes Mr Salvini's tough stance on migrants.

The PD and other minor government parties are expected to vote to grant the authorisation. It is unclear how 5-Star would vote this time.

The case will be examined by a 23-member upper house Senate committee. The timetable for its hearings has not yet been set.

Updated: December 18, 2019 08:46 PM

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