Rome Senate Says Salvini Shouldn’t Stand Trial for Blocking Migrant Ship

(Bloomberg) -- Rome’s Senate decided Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini should not have to stand trial over his refusal to allow a migrant ship to dock in Italy last summer, defusing a case that’s divided the populist coalition.

The results of the vote were widely expected after Five Star supporters backed immunity from prosecution for him in an online party vote last month. A televised preliminary count showed a large majority in the Senate in favor of blocking the trial. Final results will be made public later in the evening.

Salvini, interior minister and head of the League party, told senators on Wednesday that he acted in “the national interest” in blocking 177 migrants from disembarking in Sicily in August. Salvini also paid tribute to his coalition partner, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, whose leader Luigi Di Maio pledged to support him in the vote.

“The government has developed measures and taken actions to contrast clandestine immigration and I thank our Five Star colleagues because things are done together,” said Salvini, whose party has surged in opinion polls on the back of its anti-immigration platform.

“I thank the Good Lord and Italians for the honor to be able to defend my country and my children,” Salvini said. “I will continue to do my work without fear,” the League leader said, receiving a standing ovation from his party’s senators.

The government’s stand on immigration from north Africa was invoked by a driver of Senegalese origin who allegedly took schoolchildren hostage on his bus in Milan’s outskirts Wednesday and then set the bus on fire. The driver shouted that he was doing this because deaths in the Mediterranean must be stopped, according to newspaper La Repubblica. The children managed to escape before the bus burned down.

Kidnapping Charge

The so-called Diciotti case, in which Salvini is accused of kidnapping, has been a source of strain for the coalition because Five Star, an anti-establishment party, has long campaigned for all politicians to be held legally accountable for their actions.

Five Star leaders have justified backing Salvini’s immunity by arguing that his actions were part of government policy, saying he refused to allow the migrants to disembark until arrangements were worked out with other European Union countries.

Di Maio, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Five Star Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli backed Salvini’s stance with separate statements filed to the Senate, confirming their position that the Diciotti decision was taken collectively.

The League leader’s tough stance on immigration surfaced again this week, as he moved to block a ship carrying about 50 migrants seeking to dock in the southern port of Lampedusa. The migrants have since reached shore.

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