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Italy’s Salvini to face trial over blocking migrant ship

By AFP - Apr 18,2021 - Last updated at Apr 18,2021

ROME — An Italian court ruled on Saturday that far-right leader Matteo Salvini will face charges of kidnapping and abuse of office for blocking a migrant ship from disembarking in August 2019.

His trial was scheduled for September 15, a tribunal in the Sicilian city of Palermo said.

Salvini, head of the League party and interior minister at the time, is charged with barring migrants from landing on the island of Lampedusa after they were rescued at sea by the Spanish NGO Open Arms.

For six days, he refused to allow a ship carrying 147 mainly African migrants to land, as conditions worsened on board.

All minors and some suffering health problems were allowed to disembark.

Typically combative, Salvini tweeted on Saturday that "defending the country is every citizen's sacred duty".

"That is what I will be judged for, for having defended my country? I will appear with my head held high," he said.

Salvini, who was in the court on Saturday and who risks up to 15 years in prison, called it "more of a political than a judicial decision".

Open Arms welcomed the ruling, saying on Twitter it was "happy for all the people we have saved."

It is the second such case relating to Salvini’s time as interior minister, when he banned all NGO rescue ships from entering Italian ports.

He faces a similar case over his decision to block around 100 migrants from disembarking from the Italian Gregoretti coast guard boat in July 2019.

His League Party takes a hard line on migrants entering Italy, arguing his country bears an unfair burden as the first point of entry into Europe for those crossing on unstable boats from North Africa.

When he blocked the ships, Salvini was part of a coalition government and held the position of interior minister and deputy prime minister.

He has argued that the policy was not his alone, but was agreed by the government as a whole.

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