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article imageJail beckons for Italy's 'Years of Lead' fugitive Battisti

By Angus MACKINNON (AFP)     Oct 5, 2017 in World

Italy said Thursday it hopes to have fugitive convicted killer Cesare Battisti quickly extradited and jailed following the writer and former far-left militant's arrest in Brazil.

Battisti was detained Wednesday near Brazil's border with Bolivia, apparently while trying to skip the country amid reports the Brazilian authorities were ready to end the protection he was accorded under former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

It was the latest twist in a near 40-year legal and diplomatic saga worthy of the kind of autobiographical thriller the 62-year-old now specialises in as a writer.

Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said in a tweet that he was working with Rome's ambassador to Brazil to "bring Battisti back to Italy and hand him over to justice."

Battisti has been sentenced to life in prison in his homeland for his role in four murders attributed to Armed Proletarians for Communism, an extremist group active in the 1970s.

He admits to having been part of an armed revolutionary group but denies responsibility for any deaths.

Having published several critically acclaimed novels, he described himself in a rare interview in 2011 as a reformed man.

- Writer in Paris -

"Aspiring to change society with arms is idiotic," he said. "But listen, at the time everyone was packing a gun. There were guerillas all over the world, Italy was in a pre-revolutionary situation.

"It has been 30 years since I considered myself a political militant, now I'm an activist for literature."

Convicted in 1979 of being a member of an armed gang, Battisti escaped from a prison near Rome two years later and fled to Mexico via France.

He was subsequently convicted in absentia of having personally killed two members of Italy's police forces, taking part in the murder of a butcher, and having helped plan the slaying of a jeweller who died in a shoot-out which left his 14-year-old son in a wheelchair.

"I hope that after 40 years, justice will finally be done and that the doors of prison will open to let in an assassin," said Debora Serracchiani, president of the Friuli Venezia region, where the butcher, Antonio Santoro, was killed in 1978.

After a spell in Mexico, Battisti moved in 1990 to Paris, where he was able to pursue his writing career, safe from the risk of being extradited.

France at the time routinely rejected requests for the repatriation of leftists convicted of violent crimes during Italy's so-called Years of Lead.

That was a period spanning the 1970s and early 1980s that was marked by political bombings, kidnappings and killings carried out by extreme left and right groups.

- Last-ditch reprieve -

France's policy reflected the concerns of then president Francois Mitterrand over Italy's anti-terrorism legislation and the use of witnesses guaranteed protection to obtain convictions.

Under pressure from Italy, France eventually abandoned the so-called Mitterrand doctrine, and was on the verge of handing Battisti back in 2004 when he skipped bail and fled to Brazil.

There he lived clandestinely until his 2007 arrest in Rio de Janeiro. He subsequently spent four years in custody while his fate was debated by politicians and the courts.

An attempt by the left-wing government of the time to give him political refugee status was quashed but the final decision on whether or not Battisti was extradited was left with the president.

On January 31, 2010, hours before the end of his time in office, Lula ruled that Battisti should not be sent back to Italy.

In June 2011, the supreme court upheld the decision and Battisti was freed, sparking outrage in Italy.

The circumstances of Battisti's latest arrest suggest he was planning to flee to Bolivia.

According to reports, he was in a Bolivian taxi headed for the border and was stopped because he was carrying $5,000 and 2,000 euros in cash, leading to his arrest for attempting to take more than the authorised amount out of the country.

"It is not clear why he was stopped, but I am doing everything I can to get him released," his lawyer, Igor Sant'Anna Tamasauskaswas, was quoted as saying by Italian media.

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