Italy recalls ambassador to Brazil over extradition dispute

Rome has recalled its ambassador to Brazil over its refusal to extradite Cesare Battisti (pictured). Battisti was convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison for four murders committed in the 1970s. He was arrested in Rio in 2007.


AFP - A diplomatic row between Italy and Brazil deepened Tuesday when Rome recalled its ambassador to Brasilia over its refusal to extradite former Italian militant Cesare Battisti.

"Battisti is a terrorist who absolutely does not deserve political refugee status," Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said after announcing that he had summoned the envoy home "for consultations."

It was likely Rome's final salvo in a row sparked two weeks ago when Brazil granted political refugee status to Battisti, convicted in absentia by Italy in 1993 and sentenced to life imprisonment for four murders committed in the 1970s.

Far-left and far-right groups carried out some 600 attacks in Italy during the so-called "Years of Lead," claiming more than 300 lives.

Battisti, 54, was a member of the Movement of Armed Proletarians for Communism, a left-wing extremist group.

The former militant -- who has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence -- lived in France between 1990 and 2004 but fled to Brazil when a French law protecting him changed and he risked extradition to Italy.

Brazilian Justice Minister Tarso Genro justified the decision to grant him political refugee status by a "well-founded fear" that Battisti would be persecuted for his political opinions.

Brazil's chief prosecutor Antonio Fernando de Souza has said once such status is granted by law all extradition requests are automatically rejected, and he recommended Monday that Italy's extradition demand be rejected definitively.

"We had hoped for a deeper reexamination and reflection (of the issue)," Frattini said Tuesday. "Taking a decision in just 48 hours without objective analysis seems like... purely and simply a way of giving cover to the political decision of the justice ministry."

He added: "This is frankly unacceptable, and that is why we have recalled the ambassador to Rome for consultations in this matter. I want to discuss our options with him."

The foreign minister, in remarks quoted by the ANSA news agency, said Brazil "has always been a great friend of Italy, (and) this is why we did not expect such a serious reaction."

Sergio Romano, a former ambassador and prominent editorialist in the leading daily Corriere della Sera, said the decision to recall the ambassador "was perhaps not the best response" for Italy.

"It won't go anywhere, it won't have any effect, and then we'll have to send the ambassador back to Brasilia. We're in a bit of a dead end," he told AFP.

"It's really a shame that (Brazil) doesn't understand that in Italy the wounds caused by terrorism have still not healed," he added.

Battisti was arrested in Rio de Janeiro in 2007 and held in a Brasilia jail pending a ruling from Brazil's top federal court on whether to accede to Italy's extradition request.

The row prompted junior foreign minister Alfredo Mantica to call for the cancellation of a friendly football match between Italy and Brazil, set for February 19 in London, ANSA reported.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning