Brazil, Italy start diplomatic row over wanted `terrorist`

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva turned down an extradition demand for Cesare Battisti.

Last Updated: Jan 01, 2011, 00:35 AM IST

Brasilia: Brazil and Italy started a furious
diplomatic row today after Brazilian President Luiz Inacio
Lula da Silva turned down an extradition demand for Cesare
Battisti, an Italian whom Rome considers a "terrorist" for
murders committed in the 1970s.

Italy immediately recalled its ambassador to Brazil to
protest the decision, which it termed "seriously offensive" --
and which Lula made on his last day in office.

Brazil shot back, accusing Italy of being "impertinent"
for criticising the judgement of its head of state.

The war of words was likely to escalate as Brasilia and
Rome dug into their positions in the case.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim announced Lula`s
decision, reading from a prepared statement to reporters.

"The president today took the decision to not agree to
the extradition of Italian citizen Cesare Battisti on the
basis of a report by the attorney general," Amorim said.

Although he said it was not meant as an "affront" to
Italy, he took Italy`s government to task for warnings it made
yesterday, ahead of the decision, that it would see a refusal
to extradite Battisti as "absolutely incomprehensible and
unacceptable."

That tone was "very strange" and "impertinent," Amorim
said.

But indignation was also running high in Italy`s capital.

"The worst case scenario has happened," Italian Defense
Minister Ignazio La Russa told the ANSA news agency, adding
that Italy would "leave no stone unturned" until Brazil "backs
down on this unjust and seriously offensive decision."

The man at the center of the dispute, Battisti, 56, has
spent three decades on the run in France, Mexico and finally
Brazil, where he has been in jail since 2007 pending the
result of the Italian extradition request.

Lula`s government last year tried to declare Battisti a
refugee, prompting Rome to withdrew its ambassador in protest.

But Brazil`s Supreme Court overturned that designation as
illegal, saying the crimes imputed to the Italian were not
political in nature.

The court said a bilateral extradition treaty applied,
but left it to Lula to decide the outcome.=

Still, Battisti was not freed today.

The head of the Supreme Court, Cezar Peluso, told
reporters he and his fellow justices would verify the legality
of Lula`s decision when the court resumes in February after a
vacation recess.
Battisti, who made a new career as a crime novelist while
living in France, has said he is innocent of the murder
charges against him. He claims he is the victim of persecution
in Italy and risks being killed if returned there.

PTI