(Bloomberg) -- A panel of the Italian Senate voted to allow the start of prosecution of League party chief Matteo Salvini for refusing to allow a vessel carrying stranded migrants to dock when he was interior minister, Ansa news agency reported.
The Senate committee refused to block a trial for Salvini, Ansa reported, without citing anyone. Prosecutors are charging him with kidnapping, in denying access to a Sicilian port for 131 migrants rescued by a coast guard ship in July.
The opposition leader is casting himself as a victim of political persecution ahead of decisive regional elections, and says he was applying government policy and waiting for other European Union countries to accept the migrants.
The measure faces a possible vote in the full chamber on Feb. 17, Italian newspapers reported Tuesday.
As the panel was due to begin its proceedings, the League launched a website calling on supporters to show their backing by fasting for a day, the party said in a statement.
“I’ve decided that I’ll ask those who have to vote, so also League senators, to do me a favor,” Salvini said in a Facebook video Sunday. “Vote to put me on trial and we’ll clear things up once and for all.” He urged what he called “dear leftist judges” to catch drug dealers and criminals instead of harassing people who do their jobs.
Salvini abandoned Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s first coalition during the summer in a failed bid to trigger a snap general election. He’s been riding high in opinion polls ever since, with support nationally running at around 31%, far ahead of rivals in government.
Salvini’s center-right bloc, which includes the far-right Brothers of Italy party and ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, hopes to take control of Emilia-Romagna in a coming regional vote, at a time when the ruling Five Star Movement and Democratic Party are fighting each other.
Salvini said Monday he was “ready” to go to prison if necessary, Ansa reported.
(Updates with full chamber in fourth paragraph)
--With assistance from Alberto Brambilla.
To contact the reporters on this story: John Follain in Rome at firstname.lastname@example.org;Sonia Sirletti in Milan at email@example.com
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