In Brief

Matteo Salvini: Italy’s interior minister faces kidnap charge

Far-right leader under investigation after 100 migrants confined on a rescue ship

Italy’s interior minister has been effectively charged with kidnap, illegal arrest and abuse of office after more than 100 migrants were confined to a coastguard rescue ship for ten days.

Matteo Salvini, the leader of far-right League party who is also deputy prime minister, has been placed under investigation by the public prosecutor in Agrigento, the equivalent in Italy of being charged.

Luigi Patronaggio said he had passed on evidence against Salvini and his chief of staff at the interior ministry to a ministerial tribunal for review for possible prosecution.

Italian coast guard ship Ubaldo Diciotti picked up 190 migrants on 15 August from an overcrowded boat off the coast of Lampedusa after they were refused entry to Malta. Salvini then refused to allow the majority of the migrants to leave the boat until Italy was given assurances that the migrants would claim asylum in other member states.

Among the questions pursued by the prosecutor are why the government failed to indicate a port of safety for the migrants, as required by international law, why the migrants had not been allowed to proceed with asylum requests, and why there was no written documentation on the handling of the contentious case.

A trial of Salvini in a special ministerial court would have to be approved by the Senate, “an outcome that remains unlikely as long as the government has a solid parliamentary majority”, says The Times.

However, while the outspoken politician has adopted a typically bellicose response to the charges, challenging magistrates to arrest him, “the investigation appears to have rattled him”, says the paper.

On Sunday, the government performed a rare U-turn, granting permission or the remaining 137 people on board the coastguard ship Diciotti to disembark in Catania.

The decision to let people off the vessel “concluded a bitter stand-off between Rome’s anti-establishment government and its European Union partners”, reports The Independent, after Italy initially insisted other European nations agree to take the majority of the migrants, who are mainly from Eritrea.

More than 650,000 people have reached Italian shores since 2014, and even though the numbers have fallen steeply in the last year, Rome says it will not let any more rescue ships dock unless the migrants are shared out around the EU, and has even threatened to suspend the country’s financial contribution to the EU if its demands were not met.

Yet despite private concerns over the charges, Salvini’s hardline response to the refugee crisis is proving increasingly popular with voters.

Polls suggest the League’s anti-immigrant stance has seen support for the party, and for Salvini in particular, jump from 17% nationally in April’s election to over 30% today.

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