Italy vows court action after Brazil releases ex-militant

In Italy, Cesare Battisti was sentenced to life in prison in 1993 while on the run.

Rome: Italy on Thursday threatened to take Brazil to the UN`s highest court in a diplomatic row following the release of Italian former far-left militant Cesare Battisti from a Brazilian prison.

Condemnation of the Brazil supreme court (STF) ruling that freed Battisti was fierce across Italy, where the 56-year-old was sentenced to life in prison in 1993 while on the run, for four murders committed in the 1970s.

While Brazil insisted it would not intervene, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi expressed "great regret" and Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Rome "plans immediately to activate every possible judicial mechanism", including the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

"What are we going to do, wage war on Brazil?" asked Berlusconi, adding: "We are going to go to The Hague, we have no other option."

The United Nations court settles legal disputes between states.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff`s spokeswoman said she had been informed of the ruling and the statements of Italian leaders, "and her only comment is that a decision by the STF must be abided by -- it`s not a matter for debate".

Battisti`s lawyer, meanwhile, said he would apply for a permanent residence visa.

"Battisti has no intention of leaving Brazil," attorney Luis Roberto Barroso said, adding the former militant, who claims he is innocent, "has been advised to say nothing for now" to the media.

Maurizio Campagna, whose policeman brother Andrea`s murder was one of the four blamed on Battisti, said his release was "a moral slap in the face".

The nine-member supreme court rejected the fugitive`s extradition to Italy by a 6-3 majority, and ordered his immediate release.

The European Parliament announced plans to forward a complaint to Brasilia expressing its "indignation" over the matter as incensed members of Parliament in Strasbourg protested with signs reading "Battisti Assassin".

"I believe that all of the Parliament regrets and feels a deep bitterness following this decision," said assembly vice-president Gianni Pittella, from Italy.

Battisti has been in jail fighting extradition for the past four years.

A member of the radical Armed Proletarians for Communism (PAC) group, he became an international fugitive after escaping from an Italian jail in 1981 and spent decades evading justice, living in Mexico, France and Brazil.

He was convicted of murder in his absence by an Italian court in 1993.

"Knowing Battisti is free is a blow to the stomach. It means that a criminal can do anything he wants," said Alberto Torregiani, who was paralysed in a PAC attack planned by Battisti on his father`s jewellery shop in 1979.

Pierluigi Torregiani was killed in the shoot-out and Alberto, then 15, was shot in the spine and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since.

Rosy Bindi, president of Italy`s main centre-left opposition Democratic Party, slammed the ruling as "a grave offence to Italy". She said the decision was due to the "weakness and loss of credibility" of Berlusconi`s government.

Battisti was also convicted for murdering a prison guard and a police investigator, as well as being an accomplice in the murder of a butcher who had tried to resist a robbery on his shop by militants.

He was granted political refugee status by Brazil in January 2009, in a move that effectively halted extradition proceedings against him.

But eight months later, the Supreme Court nullified that decision and said it favoured extraditing him to Italy, while ruling that then president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva should be the final arbiter.

In late December 2010, Lula, in his last moments in office, enraged Berlusconi by denying the extradition.

The Italian government appealed, leading to Thursday`s judgment.

"At stake here is national sovereignty. It is as simple as that," said Judge Luiz Fux to justify his vote against Battisti`s extradition.

One of Battisti`s lawyers, Renata Saraiva, told the daily O Globo he had been "very anxious" as he awaited the ruling, taking anti-depressant medication to handle the stress.

Bureau Report

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