Matteo Salvini in 2019 the year he blocked the migrant ship. Image by Confartigianato Imprese via Flickr.com under creative common licence

Matteo Salvini seemingly not keen on Richard Gere or Giorgia Meloni

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Matteo Salvini, leader of the League party is not making friends right now. Caught implying Meloni is a “pain in the ass”, he also objects to Richard Gere as witness at his trial.

Matteo Salvini was left red-faced after a secret recording revealed him swearing and implying his far-right challenger, Giorgia Meloni, was a “pain in the ass”.

Meanwhile, as his trial starts today on kidnapping charges, Salvini spoke about Richard Gere being called as a witness.

“You tell me how serious a trial is where Richard Gere will come from Hollywood to testify about my nastiness,” Salvini said outside the courtroom in Palermo.

Secret recording

During a closed-door meeting with politicians from his party, Salvini talks about the friction of what was once a tight-knit coalition of right-wing parties. Published by Il Foglio newspaper, after a journalist infiltrated the meeting, Salvini is heard lamenting the position of the centre-right.

The alliance of the League, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, competes together in local elections. However, Salvini has become increasingly disgruntled since Brothers of Italy overtook the League in polling.

Meloni decided not to go into coalition with Prim Minister Mario Draghi’s government. As a result, the party has gained in popularity. Salvini’s strategy of keeping one foot in the government and one foot out is not popular with voters.

“It’s obvious that we have a centre-right in government and one in opposition,” Salvini said in the recording.

Lost badly in local elections

Talking of defeats in recent mayoral elections, Salvini said: “When you lose disgracefully, lagging by 30 points in some big cities, there is little to celebrate. The centre-right split in two or three pieces certainly doesn’t help.”

The alliance lost mayoral races in Rome, Turin, Bologna and Milan.

Salvini said he and Meloni had laughed and joked about it in a WhatsApp exchange. Earlier this month, the pair put on a show of unity hugging each other in public.

Salvini on trial for kidnapping

Today, the trial of Salvini for kidnapping got underway in Palermo. Whilst interior minister, he barred the NGO ship Open Arms from docking on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa. It was part of his tough immigration policies, which divided the country.

The migrants were kept on the ship for 19 days in August 2019. Their sanitary conditions worsened. Eventually, the ship was allowed to dock and the migrants to disembark.

Salvini criticises Hollywood star as witness

Palermo judge Roberto Murgia said all witnesses submitted by the parties can testify. That includes the actor Richard Gere, who boarded the NGO ship in August 2019 in a show of solidarity. The next hearing is set for 17 December.

Open Arms, the Spanish charity that operated the ship, requested Gere as a witness at the trial. The actor was on holiday in Tuscany at the time. He spoke to the NGO before travelling to Lampedusa to support crew and people on board.

Salvini continues to defend his decision to block the ship. His argument is he was defending his country and had support of the government, including the then prime minister, Giuseppe Conte.

He faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted.

“You tell me how serious a trial is where Richard Gere will come from Hollywood to testify about my nastiness,” Salvini said outside the Palermo courtroom. “I hope it lasts as short a time as possible because there are more important things to take care of.”

Before the hearing, he also tweeted: “This is the courtroom of the Palermo prison. The trial wanted by the left and by the fans of illegal immigration begins: how much will it cost the Italian citizens?”

Òscar Camps, founder and director of Open Arms, said: “Saving people isn’t a crime, but an obligation not only by captains but by the entire state.”

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