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Italy’s Senate to decide whether to lift Salvini’s immunity

ROME — The Italian Senate is deciding Wednesday whether to allow former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to be prosecuted — as he demands to be — for allegedly holding migrants hostage for days aboard a coast guard ship instead of letting them immediately disembark in Sicily last summer.

Salvini, a senator, says lifting his immunity and being on trial for alleged kidnapping is tantamount to defending Italy from illegal migrants, who the opposition populist leader blames for crime and for taking away jobs from Italians.

The result of the Senate vote is expected on Wednesday evening. With Salvini’s party and allies in the opposition, the motion could pass, leaving him open for trial. Any conviction could bring a prison sentence ranging from six months to 15 years.

Last month, fellow senators from Salvini’s right-wing League party, following their leader’s wishes, voted in a Senate commission in favor of lifting the immunity.

Prosecutors in Sicily had investigated Salvini for alleged kidnapping for keeping the 131 rescued migrants for six days aboard the Gregoretti, an Italian coast guard vessel, in July 2019. That drama was one of several standoffs that played out in the Mediterranean Sea while Salvini waged a crackdown on migrant rescue ships as interior minister and deputy premier in Premier Giuseppe Conte’s first government.

Eventually, the prosecutors shelved the case. But another judicial body, the Tribunal of Ministers, decided to proceed.

Salvini’s League is now in the opposition after he pulled his party out of Conte’s government in August in a failed bid for an early election.

Coming to Salvin’s defense in Senate debate Wednesday was a fellow opposition senator from ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right party. “Italians are on the side of Salvini “for trying to stop illegal immigration,” Sen. Daniela Santanche said.

Opinion surveys have tagged Salvini as one of Italy’s most popular leaders.

League Sen. Erika Stefani opened the debate by insisting that Conte’s government had shared and facilitated Salvini’s crackdown on migrants rescued at sea from Libya-based trafficker’s boats.

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