Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini announced this week that prosecutors have dropped charges laid against him after he refused to let 150 migrants disembark from a rescue ship docked in Sicily.
On Thursday, Salvini posted a video on Facebook, in which he read a letter from prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Catania informing him that they had formally asked a judge to drop the case.
No reason for their decision has been given, Reuters reported.
The anti-immigration leader of the League party had been placed under investigation for alleged “abuse of power” and “detaining people against their will” after he denied permission for disembarkation from the Diciotti vessel.
The migrants, mainly Eritrean, had been rescued at sea and brought to Italy by the Diciotti.
Salvini refused to let the migrants disembark until other European Union states agreed to take them in, resulting in a 10-day standoff, when Ireland, Albania and the Roman Catholic Church agreed to take the migrants.
The migrants taken in by the Catholic Church disappeared from their lodgings within days.
Acting on his electoral promises, in June Salvini has cracked down on NGOs smuggling migrants, which he has repeatedly accused of being “taxi boats” aiding human traffickers.
While the arrival numbers are lower, according to the UNHCR the proportion of migrants that died at the hand of smugglers trying to bring them to Europe in 2018, doubled in comparison with last year.
Salvini is currently viewed as the real head of government, with just one in six Italians choosing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, a poll revealed on Friday. He boasts a massive presence on social media, radio and television.
The monthly survey in La Repubblica newspaper showed 58 percent considered Salvini the leader, while 16 percent chose Conte and 14 percent opted for Luigi Di Maio, leader of the 5-Star Movement.
The Demos poll showed that 58 percent of respondents supported Salvini and Di Maio, the deputy prime ministers in Conte’s coalition government, which took office in June.
Also, in the standoff with Brussels over a 2019 budget that EU authorities have dismissed claiming that it violates the bloc’s rules, Salvini has refused to budge.
He is more popular than Conte, polling a 60 percent approval rating in October, the same as in September, while the prime minister’s popularity fell by three points to 59 percent.
A campaign ship, the Mare Jonio, has meanwhile been launched as an initiative by Spanish, German and Italian NGOs, backed by a left-wing politicians and funders against Salvini’s “racist” anti-immigration policy.
The group, Mediterranea Saving Humans, has raised more than 250 000 euros, to buy and launch the Italian-flagged Mare Jonio to continue picking up migrants from smuggler’s boats at sea and bring them to the EU.
Erasmo Palazzotto, a parliamentarian and one of the initiators of Mediterranea’s mission, said the group was backed by “thousands of people… to save our humanity”.
“We are the only ones left, but we are not alone,” he wrote on Twitter. “It is a genocide, and the whole Europe is to blame,” said Palazzotto, who is from Sicily. He said his motivation was “humanitarian”.
International maritime law requires ships to provide assistance to “persons in distress at sea” and to bring them to a safe harbour if they receive a signal from any source.
However, this summer the rule has been opened to interpretation, with different European governments closing their ports to such vessels working together with human smugglers.
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