Italian fugitive captured 3 decades after murder conviction

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A handout picture handout by the Italian State Police (Polizia di Stato) released on January 13, 2019 shows former far-left Italian militant Cesare Battisti after he was arrested on January 12, 2019 in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. (AFP)
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Former Italian communist militant Cesare Battisti is seen after being arrested in Santa Cruz in this picture provided by Bolivian state information agency, Santa Cruz, Bolivia, on January 13, 2019. (ABI/Bolivian Information Agency/Handout via REUTERS)
Updated 13 January 2019

Italian fugitive captured 3 decades after murder conviction

  • Battisti escaped from an Italian prison in 1981 while awaiting trial on four counts of murder
  • He was convicted in absentia in 1990 and faces a life term for the deaths of two police officers, a jeweler and a butcher

ROME: A left-wing Italian militant who was convicted of murder in his home country nearly three decades ago was arrested in Bolivia, authorities said Sunday, setting the stage for a climactic end to one of Italy’s longest-running efforts to bring a fugitive to justice.
The Italian government sent an aircraft to pick up Cesare Battisti, who was captured by Bolivian police working with Italian agents on the ground in Santa Cruz de La Sierra, Italian police said. The 64-year-old had been living in Brazil for years, but Brazil’s outgoing president signed a decree last month ordering his extradition, apparently leading to Battisti’s latest effort to elude authorities.
Italian police released a video of Battisti they said was taken hours before his capture, showing him seemingly oblivious to surveillance cameras tracking him as he walked casually down the street in jeans, a blue T-shirt and sunglasses. A subsequent image showed Battisti’s mug shot under the seal of the Bolivian police.
“Cesare Battisti’s long flight is over,” Justice Minister Alfonso Buonafede declared, adding that he would be taken to Rome’s Rebibbia prison as soon as he landed in Italy.
Battisti was expected to return to Rome aboard the Italian aircraft direct from Santa Cruz “in the coming hours,” Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said Sunday. He said Italy, and the families of Battisti’s victims, had waited too long for justice.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called Battisti a “delinquent who doesn’t deserve to live comfortably on the beach but rather to finish his days in prison.”
Battisti escaped from an Italian prison in 1981 while awaiting trial on four counts of murder allegedly committed when he was a member of the Armed Proletarians for Communism. He was convicted in absentia in 1990 and faces a life term for the deaths of two police officers, a jeweler and a butcher.
He has acknowledged membership in the group but has denied killing anyone and has painted himself as a political refugee.
After initially fleeing to Mexico, he then went to France, where he joined dozens of left-wing Italian militants who enjoyed official protection from the French government.
Like Battisti, they fled during Italy’s “years of lead,” a bloody and turbulent era during the 1970s and 1980s when militants on the left and right carried out bombings, assassinations and other violent acts to try to bring down the Italian government.
After political winds shifted in France, Battisti fled to Brazil in 2004 to avoid being extradited. He was arrested in Rio de Janeiro in 2007, prompting the Italian government to request that he be handed over. But former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva granted him asylum in 2010.
Battisti was eventually released from jail but was arrested again in 2017 after he was caught trying to cross the Brazil-Bolivia border carrying the equivalent of about $7,500 in undeclared cash. He was released after a few days.
As a result of that incident, Brazilian Supreme Federal Tribunal Justice Luiz Fux said in December that Interpol had issued a request for Battisti’s arrest on tax evasion and money laundering charges, leading him to issue a Brazilian warrant. Based on that, outgoing Brazilian President Michel Temer signed the decree ordering the fugitive’s extradition.
Brazil’s new right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, hailed Battisti’s arrest, vowed to turn him over to Italy and denounced da Silva’s government for having granted the Italian asylum.
“Finally, there will be justice for the Italian assassin and partner of ideas of one of the most corrupt governments to ever exist,” Bolsonaro tweeted in a reference to da Silva’s Workers’ Party.
Throughout the day Sunday it was unclear if Battisti would need to be transferred first to Brazilian custody before being extradited.
Bolivian government minister Carlos Romero said he would be turned over to Italian authorities in Santa Cruz on the grounds that he had entered the country in an irregular way and was obliged to leave. Citing Bolivia’s migration regulations, he said Battisti was to be handed over to Italian Interpol agents at the local airport.
Salvini praised Bolivian police and Brazil’s new government for following through on the fugitive’s case.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella said Battisti should be returned to Italy to “serve his sentence for the grave crimes that stained Italy and let the same be said for all fugitives abroad.”


India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

Updated 18 January 2020

India sends 36 ministers to restive Kashmir on charm offensive

  • Ministers are on a five-day outreach mission to connect with people in the valley
  • The ministers’ visit follows a New Delhi-sponsored trip of 15 foreign ambassadors

NEW DELHI: India has dispatched dozens of ministers to its portion of the Kashmir region to promote government projects and development following months of unrest in the area.

Last August New Delhi revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, imposing a security crackdown and a communications blackout. It is India’s only Muslim-majority state and scrapping its semi-independence was the central government’s bid to integrate it fully with India and rein in militancy.

Prepaid mobile and Internet services have been restored although most of the valley remains without the Internet. Landline and post-paid mobile services were restored last month. 

The 36 ministers are on a five-day outreach mission to connect with people in the valley, with media reports saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the delegation “to spread the message of development among the people, not only in the urban areas but also in the villages of the valley.”

He was also reported as asking them to tell people about central government schemes that will have grassroot benefits.

The ministers’ visit follows a New Delhi-sponsored trip of 15 foreign ambassadors to the region.

Jammu-based ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo said the ministerial trip tied in with New Delhi’s development agenda.

“The ministers will interact with local-level representatives and stakeholders, and discuss the plan for the development of Jammu and Kashmir,” he told Arab News. “Kashmir cannot go back to the old ways. There are no political issues that remain here, all have been sorted out by parliament by abolishing Article 370, division of the state and neutralization of separatist elements.”

But India’s opposition Congress party said the visit was an attempt to “mislead and misguide” the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

“This is a third attempt to mislead and misguide the people of the world, Jammu and Kashmir and India. They are coming here for a third time to tell lies,” Congress leader and the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Ghulam, Nabi Azad, said.

Dr. Radha Kumar, from the Delhi Policy Group, said that a development agenda would not work without addressing the political issue.

“With all the unilateral decisions to abrogate the special status of the state, arresting all the mainstream leaders and putting the state in a lockdown, how are the government’s actions so far going to establish credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the people of Jammu and Kashmir?” Kumar told Arab News. “I think this visit is more for international consumption than anything else.”

Dr. Siddiq Wahid, a Kashmiri intellectual and academic, called the visit a “clear sign” that New Delhi had no idea what to do.

“No matter how many ministers you send to Jammu and Kashmir it’s not going to alter the ground situation, it’s not going to address the issue of alienation,” he told Arab News. “What issues will they talk about with people? The government lost the people’s trust long ago.”

The Himalayan region has experienced turmoil and violence for decades. It is claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, which have gone to war twice over it, and both rule parts of it. India’s portion has been plagued by separatist violence since the late 1980s.

Jammu-based Zafar Choudhary, a senior journalist and editor of The Dispatch newspaper, said Modi’s government was full of surprises. “There have never been so many surprises in Jammu and Kashmir as have come in the last two years,” he told Arab News. “There is no instance in the past when so many central ministers have visited a state in one go.”

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