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Last updated: March 26, 2013 4:44 pm
Italy’s foreign minister has resigned, saying he disagreed with his government’s decision to send two marines back to India to stand trial for the alleged killing of two Indian fishermen while protecting a commercial ship from pirates.
“The reservations I expressed had no effect,” Giulio Terzi told parliament, declaring his intention to resign, marking a rare moment in Italian politics when a minister has quit for reasons of principle.
Mario Monti’s technocrat government, which may have only weeks to run before a new government is installed, came in for a storm of criticism after it returned the two marines last Friday. India had threatened unspecified consequences if they were not returned and banned Italy’s ambassador from leaving the country.
Silvio Berlusconi, former prime minister and leader of the centre-right People of Liberty, has called on Mr Monti to resign from his position as life senator over the affair.
The marines had been allowed to leave detention in India to vote in Italy’s general elections last month. The government then said they would not return for trial, but relented after it said it had written assurances that their “fundamental rights” would be protected and that India had pledged they would not face the death penalty.
The two marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, were on anti-piracy duty aboard an Italian-flagged tanker in February 2012 when they allegedly shot and killed the fishermen off the coast of southern India. Italy claimed the alleged incident occurred in international waters and argued that India had no legal jurisdiction to put them on trial.
The decision to allow the military to protect commercial vessels from piracy was taken by Mr Berlusconi’s previous government. Military analysts questioned the decision at the time, saying rules of engagement and the chain of command between commercial ship captains and the military had not been properly defined.
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