New Delhi

Friction rises, Italian ambassador told not to leave India

Diplomatic row after marines accused of homicide not sent back

Friction rises, Italian ambassador told not to leave India

New Delhi, March 14 - A diplomatic rift between India and Italy over two Italian marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen widened Thursday when India's Supreme Court ordered the Italian ambassador to New Delhi, Daniele Mancini, to ''not leave the country''. The order follows the Italian government's decision not to send the marines back to India after they were granted a permit to come home to vote in last month's general elections. The court also wrote to the two marines, Massimilano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, asking them to clarify their position, ANSA sources said. The marines, who have been held in India since February 2012, were allowed to return to Italy for one month for national elections held February 24-25. Latorre and Girone, who are charged with homicide for alleged shooting the fisherman while on an anti-piracy mission, were supposed to return to India later this month. The Italian government has always denied that India has jurisdiction over the matter, as the incident took place in international waters off the country's coast. In its letter to the Italian ambassador, the Indian Supreme Court said Mancini ''violated'' a ''sworn declaration'' presented on February 9 to the Indian government as ''a guarantee of the marines' return''. Along with the order to not leave the country, the Supreme Court ordered the ambassador to offer explanations for Italy's actions by March 18. An earlier deal, which allowed the marines to return to Italy for Christmas, was respected by both governments and was seen as a positive step - as well as a sign of goodwill - towards a diplomatic solution. Commenting the developments on Thursday, Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said that a decision regarding the matter would ''be taken by the Supreme Court in collaboration with the central government''. The Indian government, Khurshid said, ''is following the situation in collaboration with the Republic's central prosecutor''. In separate statements to journalists, Khurshid said: ''the most important thing is to safeguard the dignity and the feelings of the India''. Some members of the Indian political establishment seem to be using the diplomatic tussle over the marines to gain leverage ahead of national elections scheduled to take place later this year. On Thursday, Subramanian Swamy, president of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, presented a petition to the Supreme Court asking for legal action against the Italian ambassador for the crime of ''contempt of court''. The current government is led by the Congress Party, whose president, Sonia Gandhi, the Italian wife of Rajiv Gandhi, a former Congress leader and prime minister assassinated in 1991.

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