Rome

Diplomatic tussle over marines 'necessary' says Terzi

Time bought to make sure no death penalty says FM

Diplomatic tussle over marines 'necessary' says Terzi

Rome, March 22 - Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said Friday that a diplomatic tussle over returning two marines accused of killing two fishermen to India had been "necessary" to make sure the men did not face the death penalty. "The situation is normalising," he told La Repubblica daily after Italy's surprise climbdown Thursday night in a row that saw India block the Italian ambassador from leaving the country. Without buying time for talks by reneging on a pledge to return the pair after a permit to vote in last month's Italian elections, he said, "we would not have been able to negotiate the current conditions, which envisage (good) conditions of everyday living and the guarantee that the death penalty will not applied", he said. The government's turnaround continued to spur criticism at home Friday with Silvio Berlusconi's Senate Whip Maurizio Gasparri calling it "pitiful and inept" and the mayor of Bari, one of the men's hometowns, calling it "indescribable". Indian Premier Manmohan Singh said Friday he was "happy" with the decision to return the marines to trial in India after a diplomatic tug-of-war escalated between the two countries. "I welcome the return of the Italian marines, which took place according to directives issued by the Indian Supreme Court and in coherence with the dignity of due process in India," Singh told journalists. Italy promised the men would go back after last month's election leave as they did after a Christmas break but did not honour the pledge, angering India who stopped the Italian ambassador from leaving the country. Singh had said Italy's refusal to honour the pledge to turn over the two men, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, "cast a shadow" over the two countries' relations. On Thursday evening Italy's government said it had asked and obtained from the Indian authorities written guarantees of the treatment and the recognition of the marines' fundamental rights as recognized by international law. India's justice minister earlier on Thursday said the pair had until Friday to return to the Asian nation, otherwise the affair would escalate further. The two marines had been held in India since February 2012 after a shooting incident in international waters in which two Indian fishermen, Jelestine Valentine and Ajesh Binki, were killed. Italy has always denied that India has jurisdiction over the case, as it took place in international waters. As a sign of goodwill, the two marines were allowed to return to Italy to spend Christmas with their families and - after returning to India as agreed between the two governments - were allowed back to Italy again to vote in February elections, after which they did not return.

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