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Italy minister looks up sailors

Thiruvananthapuram, Dec. 16 (Agencies): Italy’s defence minister Giampaolo Di Paolo today visited two Italian marines accused of killing two fishermen off the Kerala coast, stepping up pressure to allow them home for Christmas after the case flared into a diplomatic spat.

Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, members of a military security team protecting the cargo ship Enrica Lexie from pirate attacks, opened fire on a fishing boat they mistook for a pirate craft in February. The killings of the unarmed fishermen had triggered outrage.

“Nobody more than India knows the values of festivities. For us, Christmas is our biggest festivity. We are confident that the Indian people will understand this,” Di Paolo told reporters in Kochi, where the marines are on bail.

“We have respect in the Supreme Court of India. We are confident that the case will be decided according to international laws,” Di Paolo said, accompanied by Italy’s ambassador to India.

Di Paolo also handed over gifts to the marines from their regiment colleagues based in Heart in Afghanistan when they met at a five-star hotel last night.

The gifts — a shawl each and T-shirts — were sent by members of the San Marco regiment. They had signed on the shawls, sources said. Latorre and Girone belong to the same regiment.

Last week, Italy summoned India’s ambassador in Rome and expressed “strong disappointment” that the Supreme Court had delayed a decision on which country the two marines should be tried in.

Di Paolo arrived in Kochi yesterday from Afghanistan. He is expected to return to Italy from Kerala without meeting Indian officials.