In the dispute over the rescue of migrants, the Italian Senate lifted the immunity of former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini - for the second time this year. After a debate lasting several hours, 149 senators voted in favor of the repeal on Thursday and 141 voted against, the chamber said. This clears the way for a further trial against the party leader right-wing populist Lega party because of his tough refugee policy as a minister until 2019.

In the current case, Salvini is accused of deprivation of liberty and abuse of office. As Minister of the Interior, he is said to have exceeded his powers in August 2019 to detain more than 80 migrants saved in the Mediterranean on the rescue ship "Open Arms". The prosecutors accuse him of this before a court in the Sicilian city of Palermo. If convicted, Salvini faces up to 15 years in prison. In addition, he could be temporarily banned from his political activity.

"As a minister, I acted with the entire government to defend my country"

Salvini spoke on Thursday in the Senate of a "political process" and called the "OpenArms" a "pirate ship". Salvini said, "I thank those who send me into a process: they are doing me a favor." He always claims that he has done his duty in the interests of the citizens. "As a minister, I acted with the entire government to defend my country," he wrote on the microblogging service Twitter.

Salvini is a senator in the smaller of two chambers of parliament in Rome. He actually enjoys political immunity - is therefore protected from criminal prosecution. However, the Senate had already overturned Salvinis immunity in a similar case in a similar case. At that time it was about the blockade of the coast guard ship "Gregoretti" with 131 migrants. According to previous information, this first process should start on October 3 in Catania, Sicily, with a preliminary hearing.

Lega party polls say 25 percent

After the lockdown in spring caused the number of migrants to drop sharply, the numbers rose sharply again in July - to 6,431 so far. In the same month of 2019, according to the Italian Ministry of the Interior, there were 1,088, in 2018 almost 2,000 people in 2018. Around 13,400 migrants arrived in Italy from January to July. That was significantly more than at the same time in 2019, but not as many as in 2018 (18,408 to July).

The current government in Rome announced the removal of strict laws against private sea rescuers that Salvini had initiated. But since February, the corona crisis has put the topic in the background. The Italian government declared its ports "not safe" during this phase, thereby blocking them for private lifeboats.

The right-wing parties, above all the right-wing populist Lega party, repeatedly speak out against the admission of migrants who describe them as a possible Covid-19 health risk. They accuse the government of not protecting the borders enough. According to polls, the Lega party currently only has 25 percent. A year ago it was over eleven percentage points more. Nevertheless, the Lega is still the strongest party in Italy and Salvini wants to be the next prime minister.

Salvini was Minister of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte's first government from June 2018 to early September 2019. Then he got out with the Lega. His coalition partner, the Five Star Movement, teamed up with the Social Democrats (PD) for the current government.