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Italy's Salvini dares lawmakers to vote to put him on trial

ROME (AP) — Italy's right-wing opposition leader Matteo Salvini dared fellow senators Monday to vote to put him on trial for alleged kidnapping for keeping migrants aboard a rescue ship for days when he was interior minister.

The Senate commission on parliamentary immunity meets later in the day to decide. But no matter what the outcome of that decision is, no immunity can be lifted until the entire Senate votes in February.

Italy's governing center-left parties fear Salvini wants to have his immunity lifted to win sympathy votes for his anti-migrant League party in a Jan. 26 regional election, where he hopes to triumph in a left-wing stronghold.

“If someone wants to put me on trial, that's OK,'' Salvini tweeted on Monday. ”I'll look them in the eyes, and if it costs me going to jail, I'll go with my head high." Salvini insists that while interior minister he acted to safeguard Italy's borders when he refused for six days to allow the coast guard ship Gregoretti bring 131 rescued migrants ashore to Sicily in July 2019. His League party blames migrants for crime and contends there's a risk some might be terrorists.

Prosecutors in Sicily investigated Salvini for alleged kidnapping, then decided to shelve the case. But another judicial body, the Tribunal of Ministers, which has jurisdiction over the handling of alleged crimes by government officials, wants to proceed.

Coalition parties in Premier Giuseppe Conte's government last week unsuccessfully sought to have the vote delayed until after the regional election. If the Democrats, a main government party, lose in the long-time left-wing stronghold of Emilia Romagna to the right-wing League, Salvini would gain momentum to resume pressing for an early national election.

Party whips from the Democrats, along with senior coalition partner, the populist 5-Star Movement, and leaders of smaller governing parties, huddled ahead of the Senate commission vote. One strategy could be to boycott the commission vote.

As interior minister in Conte's previous government, Salvini cracked down on migrants who were rescued by the thousands in the Mediterranean Sea from human traffickers' unseaworthy boats. Some of Salvini's partners in the opposition took their distance from him.

“I criticized the decision to keep the Gregoretti offshore from the Italian coasts when no one in the center-right had the courage to do so,'' said Mara Carfagna, a prominent official in the Forza Italia party headed by Silvio Berlusconi, the media mogul and ex-premier.

”To reach a political goal, it's not licit to do any old thing. And that decision, taken by the entire government was inhumane, not worth of a civilized country and served to cover up the absence of real action to combat clandestine immigration," Carfagna said.

Salvini has insisted that the decision to refuse to let the migrants disembark was shared both by Premier Conte and 5-Star chief Luigi Di Maio, who was the other coalition leader in the previous 5-Star-League government. That government collapsed in August after Salvini yanked support in a thwarted bid to trigger earlier elections.

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