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matteo salvini

U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser / Arlington National Cemetery /

The Italian Senate has voted to allow prosecutors to put far-right leader Matteo Salvini on trial over charges of holding immigrants at sea.

Matteo Salvini, who previously served as the country’s interior minister, is accused of illegally keeping people on a boat off Sicily for days in August 2019.

Some 116 migrants remained aboard the Gregoretti for close to a week.

On February 12, a majority of senators voted for the trial of Matteo Salvini to go ahead.

The anti-immigration League leader has repeatedly said he wants to go to court. He told the chamber he wanted “to tell the world” that his migration policies “saved tens of thousands of lives.”

He said: “I am absolutely calm and proud of what I have done. And I’ll do it again as soon as I get back into government.”

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Senators from his League party left the chamber rather than take part in the vote.

Under Italian law, ministers have parliamentary immunity for actions taken while they were in office. However, a committee voted last month to strip Matteo Salvini of his immunity – leaving the final decision in the hands of the Senate on February 12.

An official vote tally is expected by 19:00 local time. If successfully prosecuted at trial, Matteo Salvini could face up to 15 years in jail.

For years, some in Italy have complained that the country has taken in a large number of migrants fleeing across the Mediterranean, and has called for other EU nations to take their share.

Matteo Salvini in particular took a hard stance on migrant boats while he was in office, implementing a closed ports policy.

On July 25, 2019, Italian coastguard ship the Gregoretti picked up about 140 migrants trying to travel to Italy from Libya.

While the Gregoretti allowed several people off the ship for medical attention, some 116 people remained on board for days while Matteo Salvini demanded other EU countries take them in.

The decision drew an immediate backlash. Prosecutors opened an investigation into conditions aboard after reports that migrants only had one toilet between them.

After the Catholic Church and a number of states agreed to care for those on board, in a deal which then EU commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos helped to broker, Matteo Salvini eventually consented to let them dock on July 31.

Image source Wikimedia Commons

Italy’s interior minister and leader of League Party, Matteo Salvini, has called for a snap election, saying differences with coalition partners cannot be mended.

He said that a failed attempt by the Five Star Movement to derail plans for a high-speed rail link showed the coalition could no longer govern.

Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio said his party did not fear another election.

Matteo Salvini’s right-wing party is well ahead in opinion polls, due mainly to his stance against illegal immigration.

He is also very active on social media and has developed a “man of the people” image, pushing for tax cuts despite Italy’s €2.3tn debt mountain, which is second only to Greece’s in the EU.

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In last year’s election, Five Star won twice as many votes as the League, but polls suggest the proportions have been reversed.

In EU elections held in May the League came top with 34% of the votes in Italy, whereas Five Star got about 17%.

Giuseppe Conte, the non-party law professor who serves as the coalition’s prime minister, has said Matteo Salvini, must “justify” to parliament his call for an election.

Both Matteo Salvini and Luigi Di Maio are deputy prime ministers.

The authority to dissolve parliament rests with President Sergio Mattarella, but he may be reluctant to do so, as next month lawmakers – who are currently on holiday – have to consider the 2020 budget.

Political clashes over the project for a railway between the Italian city of Turin and French city of Lyon led PM Giuseppe Conte to put tenders on hold in March.

The multi-billion-euro TAV (Treno Alta Velocità) link involves digging a 36-mile tunnel through the Alps.

The project is bitterly opposed by Five Star on environmental and cost grounds.

The League argues that the TAV project would create jobs and stimulate economic growth, and that moving freight from road to rail is environmentally friendly.

Supporters of the TAV project say it would halve the travel time between the two cities to just two hours. The tunnel would also make it possible to travel from Paris to Milan in around four hours, down from nearly seven.

The TAV project was launched 20 years ago and part of it has already been dug. It is scheduled for completion in 2025.

Costs were initially projected to hit €8.6 billion ($9.7 billion), but Italy’s Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli – a Five Star member – put the price tag at over €20 billion.

The EU pledged to fund up to 40% of the cost.

Matteo Salvini’s demand for an election does not necessarily mean a poll will be called in the near future. Italy has not had an autumn election in all the post-war period, Reuters news agency reports.

President Sergio Mattarella could theoretically appoint a government of technocrats and postpone a new election until next year.

Italy has had a technocratic government before, but Matteo Salvini, riding a wave of popularity, can be expected to oppose such a move.