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Ex-Italian Interior Minister Salvini Appears in Catania Court for Migrant Abuse Hearings

© AP Photo / Luca BrunoItalian Interior Minister and right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini, gestures as he arrives for a lunch at an hotel in Milan, Italy, Monday, July 2, 2018. The leader of the right-wing party in Italy's populist government told tens of thousands of supporters Sunday he wants to turn next year's European Parliament election into a referendum on immigration and job security
Italian Interior Minister and right-wing League leader Matteo Salvini, gestures as he arrives for a lunch at an hotel in Milan, Italy, Monday, July 2, 2018. The leader of the right-wing party in Italy's populist government told tens of thousands of supporters Sunday he wants to turn next year's European Parliament election into a referendum on immigration and job security - Sputnik International
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ROME (Sputnik) - Matteo Salvini, a former Italian interior minister and the leader of the Lega political party, appeared on Saturday in the court of Sicily’s Catania for the opening hearing in the migrant ship blockage case.

Catania prosecutors accuse Salvini of abusing his interior minister powers when barring 116 migrants from disembarking off the Italian Gregoretti coastguard boat in 2019 under his so-called closed ports policy, which prohibits private rescue ships to enter the Italian waters without permission and sets an up to one million euro fine ($1.1 million) for non-compliance. Prior to that, Salvini refused to allow the docking of the Alan Kurdi rescue ship, operated by the Sea Eye non-governmental organization.

The Syracuse City Attorney’s Office launched an investigation over the critical situation that had developed on the Gregoretti coastguard boat. On 12 February, Italian senators voted to strip Salvini of immunity, paving the way for his trial on charges of illegally detaining migrants aboard the ship. Addressing the parliament’s upper chamber ahead of the vote back then, Salvini had said he considered it his duty to protect the national borders and interests.

"I am calm because I believe that I have done my duty. I fully trust the Italian justice. Tomorrow [Saturday], I will not speak in court. We have stated in writing that we saved human lives, that no harm was done to anyone, which honored Italy with respect for the law," Salvini reiterated his position ahead of the opening hearing in Catania.

The court might also want to hear Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and other government members in relation to the ship barring.

Salvini’s supporters and opponents have gathered in front of the court. Several rallies are expected to take place in the city throughout Saturday.

Due to its geography and commitments under several EU agreements, Italy has traditionally been among the front-gate countries to be approached by boats carrying migrants.

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