Matteo Salvini faces trial for blocking migrants at sea | Italy

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Italian political leader Matteo Salvini appeared before a judge in Palermo on Saturday in a 2019 incident in which he stranded migrants at sea while serving as interior minister.

Salvini, leader of the far-right political party known as the League, is suspected of kidnapping and abuse of power for refusing to allow around 100 migrants to disembark in Italy in August 2019.

He blocked a ship, the Open Arms, from berthing in a port, forcing it to anchor off the island of Lampedusa as conditions on board deteriorated. The migrants who had been picked up at sea were finally able to disembark on the orders of a local prosecutor.

On Saturday, the judge postponed the proceedings to March 20, when the former minister must know whether or not he will face charges.

“I’m totally comfortable and proud of what I’ve done,” Salvini told media after the closed-door hearing. “I only regret the cost of the procedure which is borne by the Italian taxpayers and the magistrate’s time that I lost.

Open Arms said in a statement that the case was also directed against the governments of Italy and the European Union, which it said had violated international conventions on rescues at sea and the rights of refugees.

Salvini was forced to step down as interior minister shortly after the affair because of a government crisis he himself had provoked.

Since then, the coronavirus pandemic and the dire economic conditions resulting from it have replaced immigration as the main concerns of most Italians.

The restrictions resulting from the pandemic have also led to a sharp drop in the number of illegal immigrants who entered Italy last year.

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