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In the news: Italy’s Salvini could face trial over migrant treatment

Refugees and migrants rescued at sea by the Italian coast guard in the Mediterranean Sea disembarking at the port of Augusta in Sicily in 2016. (Patrick Russo/UNHCR)

Italian senators have voted to lift the immunity of the far-right leader of Italy’s Northern League party, Matteo Salvini, meaning he could now face prosecution over allegations he illegally kept more than 100 migrants and refugees at sea in July 2019.

Salvini built his political career by standing on a fiercely anti-immigration platform and, as interior minister, introduced a series of measures aimed at reducing the influx across the Mediterranean from North Africa.

These included barring NGO rescue ships from Italian ports and controversial legal measures that effectively cut residency permits and integration services for tens of thousands of asylum seekers.

Senators on Wednesday voted 152-76 in favour of removing the legal protection that, because he was a former cabinet minister, had been shielding him from prosecution.

Their decision paves the way for magistrates in Sicily to launch a criminal investigation over his decision to hold migrants and refugees on board the Gregoretti, an Italian coast guard vessel, for several days while he tried to persuade other EU countries to take them in.

Salvini has repeatedly said he wants to go to court and is proud of what he did. 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.

"I, like Trump? 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," he wrote on Twitter.

– Andrew Gully

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