Italy's interior minister faces kidnap charges after immigrants held for ten days at sea 




 

Italy's far-Right interior minister on Sunday dismissed possible kidnapping charges over the illegal detention of more than 100 migrants as a "badge of honour" as he geared up for a clash with the judiciary.

The group of 150 migrants finally left the Italian coast guard ship Diciotti yesterday after spending 10 days stranded at sea when Italy refused permission for them to disembark, following an agreement for Ireland and Albania to take some of them in.

The ship, also carrying 42 Italian crew members, initially rescued 190 migrants off the coast of Libya on 16 August.

The sickest and youngest were allowed to leave earlier. But approximately a dozen of the mostly Eritrean migrants stranded on board were hospitalized after disembarking Sunday, some with symptoms of tuberculosis, pneumonia and scabies.

All 11 women on board had been victims of sexual violence, port medics said.

The head of Italy's Medical Agency (AIFA) Stefano Vella resigned in protest on Sunday, saying that as a doctor he felt he could "no longer lead a public health body at a time when people are treated this way on our territory."

Mr Salvini and another high-ranking member of the Italian government have been placed under formal investigation by prosecutors for potential "illegal arrest, illegal confinement and abuse of office".

But Mr Salvini, the head of the far-Right League, which is in coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, has treated the episode as a boost to his anti-immigration credentials.

"Every inquiry, lie, insult or threat because I defend the security, borders and future of Italians, is a medal for me," said Mr. Salvini in a tweet on Sunday.

Notified of the inquiry on Saturday while meeting with supporters in a northern Dolomite resort town, Mr Salvini taunted prosecutors to arrest him, saying he awaited them with a glass of local mulberry grappa.

"They can arrest me, but not the wishes of 60 million Italians," he said. "Its incredible to live in a country where 10 days ago a bridge collapsed killing 43 people and still no one has been placed under inquiry, while they investigate a minister protecting the security of this country."

Former Interior Minister Marco Minniti, Mr Salvini's predecessor, accused the far-Right leader of provoking an "unjustified and unprecedented conflict of state powers" in exchange for short-term political gain.

Mr Salvini pointed to 100,000 tweets under the hashtag "No-one Touches Salvini" on Sunday as proof of his popular support should the fragile government coalition crumble.

As his personal popularity rises, he is reportedly considering calling for fresh elections in the hope of consolidating his power.

On Tuesday, Mr Salvini will holds talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, which has caused disquiet within the 5SM, who have asked why the Italian prime minister, a 5SM member, is not meeting with his Hungarian counterpart.

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