Italian political leader Matteo Salvini appeared Saturday before a Palermo judge in connection with a 2019 incident during which he blocked migrants at sea while he was the interior minister.

Salvini, head of the far-right political party known as the League, is suspected of sequestration and abuse of power for having refused to allow about 100 migrants to land in Italy in August 2019.

He blocked a ship, the Open Arms, from docking in a port, forcing it to anchor off the island of Lampedusa while conditions on board deteriorated. The migrants that had been picked up at sea were finally able to disembark on the orders of a local prosecutor.

On Saturday, the judge postponed proceedings until 20 March, at which point the former minister is to find out if he will face charges or not.

“I am totally at ease and proud of what I did,” Salvini told media following the closed-door hearing. “I am sorry only for the cost of the procedure that is being borne by Italian taxpayers and the magistrate’s time that I have wasted.”

Open Arms said in a statement that the case was also directed at the Italian and European Union governments, which it said had violated international conventions on sea rescues and refugees rights.

Salvini was forced out of his position as interior minister shortly after the affair owing to a government crisis he himself had provoked.

Since then, the coronavirus pandemic and dire economic conditions stemming from it have replaced immigration as the main concerns of most Italians.

Restrictions resulting from the pandemic also caused a sharp decline in the number of illegal immigrants who entered Italy last year.



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