Rome

FM Terzi quits over marines row with India

Defence minister distances himself, Monti to report Wednesday

FM Terzi quits over marines row with India

(By Denis Greenan). Rome, March 26 - Giulio Terzi on Tuesday told parliament that he was resigning as Italy's foreign minister following criticism of the government's handling of the case of two Italian marines facing homicide charges in India. Terzi, a prestigious career diplomat, said he did not agree with the government's decision to return the pair, accused of killing two fishermen while on anti-piracy duty. But Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola said the government had been right to act as it did and refused to quit. The men, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, were sent back to India on Friday in a U-turn after Rome had said they would not return after being allowed to come home to vote. They had previously returned to India after a Christmas leave. In response to a decision seen as reneging on a pledge, India blocked the Italian ambassador from leaving the country. The men were returned for trial after Rome received assurances the death penalty had been taken off the table. They will be tried at a special court mandated to hand down sentences no longer than seven years, and may return to Italy to serve out their time if convicted. Terzi, 66, a former ambassador to the UN, Israel and Washington, said he was resigning "out of disagreement with the (government's) decision to send the marines back to India". "My reservations had no impact and the decision was not mine," Terzi told parliament. "My voice went unheard". Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola, on the other hand, said he would resist calls to resign and would not "abandon" the marines. "I know what Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, looking me in the eye, said on the night of March 21: 'Don't abandon us'. I won't abandon the ship," Di Paola told parliament. "It would be easy to resign, but it wouldn't be right and I won't do it". Di Paola said Terzi's views "were not shared by the government". Outgoing Italian Premier Mario Monti said he was "stunned" by Terzi's decision and also did not "share" the ex-foreign minister's stance. Monti said he would appear before both houses of parliament on Wednesday to discuss the case, answering calls from ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party, which has long been critical of the premier's handling of the affair. "We hope that Monti is absolutely clear because our international credibility is at stake," said PdL Secretary Angelino Alfano. "We appreciate the courageous and dignified act on the part of the foreign minister". News of Terzi's resignation became the top item on Indian TV and gained immediate front-page headlines online. Cnn-Ibn put it on its banner, followed by News X. The Times of India, The Indian Express and the Hindustan Times opened with it while The Hindu ran a photo of Terzi leaving a building with the marines. All news channel Times Now, one of Italy's toughest critics throughout the affair, said "Italy has its first political victim of the marines row: Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi. In their coverage, the Indian media highlighted the joy of the fishermen's wives at the marines' return as well as the agreement under which the pair could be sent back to complete any jail time in Italy. Some media outlets also linked the case to corruption allegations surrounding a $748 million deal for the purchase of 12 Italian helicopters, which the Indian government is now threatening to scrap.

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