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Italy resolute ahead of death-penalty ruling in India

Premier Letta vows 'international steps' to save marines

17 January, 18:18
Italy resolute ahead of death-penalty ruling in India (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - Rome, January 17 - Premier Enrico Letta on Friday vowed to move on an "international level" to keep two Italian marines from facing the death penalty in India for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen. Letta spoke after meeting with Foreign Minister Emma Bonino and Defence Minister Mario Mauro, ahead of an Indian Supreme Court hearing on the case as soon as Monday. The premier added he "was happy with the solidarity expressed by the European Union and a plan to send an Italian House delegation to New Delhi". In a statement issued after the meeting, the government reiterated its "firm expectation that the Indian government would keep its assurances...that the case in question does not fall under anti-piracy norms (that include capital punishment as a possible sentence)".

Italian Marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone are accused of killing fishermen Valentine (aka Gelastine) and Ajesh Binki after allegedly mistaking them for pirates and opening fire on their fishing trawler while guarding the privately owned Italian-flagged oil-tanker MT Enrica Lexie off the coast of Kerala on February 15, 2012. Italy has appealed to the Indian Supreme Court amid fears that India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) intends to prosecute the pair under a 2002 anti-terrorism law that carries the death penalty, despite previous reassurances from the Indian government that the marines would not face capital punishment. It's expected that that appeal, including a demand by Italy for the release of the two marines, will be reviewed on Monday. A delegation of Italian MPs also plans to travel to India to lend support to the case of the marines.

Other possibilities to avoid the death penalty remain. Earlier this week, Indian media reported that India's interior ministry is considering excluding the possibility of charging the two Italian marines under the anti-terrorism law. If the interior ministry rules out using the law, the NIA would effectively be taken off the case. The Italian petition to the Indian Supreme Court said the pair should be released due to the long delays in their trial following their arrest almost two years ago. It demanded Indian magistrates "immediately present charges without using the anti-terrorism law," and proposed "authorizing the marines to return to Italy to wait out the time (required) for Indian trial," judicial sources have said.

The petition also complained that it is unclear whether the investigation has been concluded, adding that charges have yet to be filed and the trial has not yet begun.