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PM vows to act as Italy refuses to send back marines

Tuesday March 12, 2013 07:58:44 PM, IANS

New Delhi/Thiruvananthapuram: India will do "whatever needs to be done" after Italy refused to send back its two marines facing trial in India for murder, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Tuesday.

Manmohan Singh's unusually strong words came amid a diplomatic standoff between New Delhi and Rome after the dramatic Italian decision not to send the two to India despite promises made to the Indian Supreme Court.

The prime minister gave his assurance to a delegation of furious Congress MPs from Kerala amid opposition charges of "collusion" between the Italian and Indian governments.

Congress MP P.C. Chacko quoted the prime minister as saying that he would speak to External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and "whatever needs to be done through diplomatic channels will be done".

The Supreme Court in February allowed Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, accused of killing two poor Indian fishermen off Kerala, to fly to Italy to vote in the Feb 24-25 national election.

Khurshid said earlier that India was studying the Italian decision and that it was a "collective decision" to permit the Italian marines to vote in Italy.

"It was not just a Supreme Court decision but our country's collective decision. They did return after Christmas and we will respond after seeing what reasoning Italy has given," Khurshid said here.

The Italian decision was reportedly taken by its defence and justice ministries in consultation with the country's prime minister's office, the Italian foreign ministry announced Monday.

The marines have been at the centre of a year-long row for shooting the Indian fishermen after reportedly mistaking them for pirates in February 2012.

Italy claims the incident occurred in international waters and has been trying to get Latorre and Girone tried in Italian courts. India argues the killings took place in Indian territory.

The incensed wife of one of the dead fishermen demanded that the Italians be brought back to India.

Dora, wife of fisherman Gelastine, said: "This is a conspiracy at the highest level. The Indian government should ... bring back the two marines to stand trial in our country."

The other fisherman who died is Ajesh Binki.

A furious Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy termed the Italian move unacceptable.

The Left Democratic Front in Kerala accused the Congress-led state and central governments of "colluding" with Italy.

"This has taken place because all the players in this ... colluded for this to take place," Marxist leader Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, a former Kerala home minister, told IANS.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was equally critical.

"It was a planned strategy and looks like a diplomatic collusion between India and Italy," party spokesman Balbir Punj said.

"People who murdered two Indians are getting away scot free. We want to know under whose influence this is happening."

Another BJP leader, Rajiv Pratap Rudy, said it was "bluff and betrayal" by the Italian government and India should respond strongly.

"A big question arises over the role of the Indian government."

When the Italians were allowed by the Supreme Court to return to Italy for a second time (they went during Christmas and returned), Rome's ambassador here had promised that the two would positively return to India.





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