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Letta gets marines update, president blasts India

Napolitano phones Italians who may face death penalty

31 January, 19:22
Letta gets marines update, president blasts India (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - Rome, January 31 - Italy will work to raise awareness among its international partners of the plight of two Italian marines who may face the death penalty in India, Premier Enrico Letta said Friday after he heard from a parliamentary delegation that visited the pair. President Giorgio Napolitano, meanwhile, blasted India's handling of the case as "contradictory and disconcerting," in a statement.

The delegation of Italian MPs had recently travelled to India to learn more about the situation of marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone who allegedly killed two Indian fishermen two years ago while on an anti-piracy mission.

"We will continue our contacts with Italy's main European and international partners to raise awareness on an issue that sees the international community on the side of our two marines and their families," Letta said after the meeting.

On Thursday, a special court in the Indian capital of New Delhi announced that it would postpone their case until February 25, heightening tension in what has become an international matter.

The special court said it would await a ruling expected on February 3 from the Indian Supreme Court on a reported move by India's National Investigation Agency (NIA) to prosecute the Italians 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. Napolitano, who said that the case had been managed in "contradictory, disconcerting ways by the Indian authorities," added that he will support Letta in raising awareness among Italy's international partners about the marines.

"The head of State will continue and intensify the contacts established on this issue with the heads of State of friendly nations, having already encountered attention and understanding about this painful case from them," added the statement.

Napolitano reportedly also promised them that they would come back to Italy "with honour," according to a centre-right MP who has been at the forefront of a drive to get the marines home.

"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 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. India is violating the marines' human rights by holding them for so long, Italy's defense minister Mario Mauro said Friday.

Speaking outside a defense conference in Munich, Mauro said that India's justice system has taken too long.

"(The) marines are innocent and it is right that they come back home," said Mauro.

"After two years, there is still not an indictment: this is a violation of human rights," Mauro added. The renewed threat of capital punishment in the case has increased outrage.

One of the Italian lawmakers who was part of a delegation that traveled to New Delhi 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 Monday during his visit to the Italian marines.

Amidst all of the political, diplomatic and judicial turmoil, one of the marines said on Monday that they were still doing their military duty.

"We are soldiers, Italian soldiers. We must suffer with dignity," said Latorre, who met the parliamentary delegates at the Italian embassy.

"We hope to come back with honor".

After seeing the marines, the Italian delegation met with all of the EUs ambassadors in New Delhi. All except one, whose nationality has not been disclosed, agree with Italy that the case of the two marines is an international issue, not just a bilateral issue, the MPs said.

An 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. As well, the petition complained that it is unclear whether the investigation has been concluded since no charges have been filed.

It also argued that invoking the anti-terrorism act would be tantamount to calling Italy a terrorist state.

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

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 a meeting Italian Premier Enrico Letta. That support from the EU and other European States was "very important for a positive solution" to the case of two Italian marines, said Letta.

The controversy has even taken a commercial twist with the EU threatening India with economic consequences if the death penalty is not taken off the table.