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'You'll return with honour', Napolitano tells marines

'President phones Latorre, Girone'

31 January, 18:34
'You'll return with honour', Napolitano tells marines (ANSA) - Rome, January 31 - Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on Friday telephoned two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen after mistaking them for pirates, according to a centre-right MP who has been at the forefront of a drive to get the pair home.

The head of State reportedly promised Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone that they would come back to Italy "with honour".

"Napolitano on the phone with #marines, you will return with honour," tweeted Maurizio Gasparri, Senate whip for ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party and deputy Speaker in the upper house.

The pair's trial was delayed until late February on Thursday, heightening tension in what has become an international matter.

A special court in the Indian capital of New Delhi announced it would postpone until February 25 the case of Italian marines Latorre and Girone who may face the death penalty in India for allegedly killing the fishermen.

The court announced the delay pending a ruling that is expected from the Supreme Court which is expected to rule February 3 on a reported move by India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) to prosecute the pair under a harsh anti-terrorism law that bears the death penalty, despite previous reassurances from the Indian foreign ministry that the marines would not face capital punishment.

The Italian petition to the Indian Supreme Court said that the pair should be released due to long delays in the pre-trial process, following their arrest almost two years ago.

It also called on Indian magistrates to "immediately press charges without recurring to the anti-terrorism law," and to let the marines return to Italy to wait until they actually stand trial, judicial sources in Italy have said.

The case that has drawn concerns from the heads of the European Union and the United States has reportedly also expressed support for Italy in the row.

One lawmaker in Italy has likened capital punishment to an act of war.

"(If the punishment is approved, it will be) an attack on Italy," Fabrizio Cicchitto, chairman of the Lower House foreign affairs committee, said after a recent visit to the Italian marines.

The pair 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.

The European Union has gone so far as to threaten India with economic consequences if the death penalty is not taken off the table.

India enjoys trade preferences with the EU, and bilateral talks to set up a free-trade agreement are ongoing.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso warned Wednesday that the fate of the two Italian marines would "have an impact on the whole EU".

"The EU is against the death penalty in any situation," he added after meeting Italian Premier Enrico Letta. Letta on Friday met with a delegation of Italian MPs who have just got back from seeing the marines in India and said he was confident of increasingly broad international support on the case.