Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Friday that he will not extradite former Italian guerrilla Cesare Battisti, a move that threatens to damage relations with Italy.
Brazil's Supreme Court had ruled last year that Battisti should be extradited on murder convictions from the 1970s in Italy, but it left the final decision to Lula.
Although the president's ruling was widely expected, it caused outrage in Italy.
"I consider this situation is anything but closed: Italy will not give up and will make sure of its rights," said Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in a statement on Friday, adding that he would explore ways to reverse the decision.
But Brazil's outgoing Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, who delivered Lula's decision via a statement on Friday, played down any deterioration in the countries' relationship.
"I don't think it will be damaged, because Brazil's decision was a sovereign one," he said.
His comments were echoed by others in Brazil's government.
"They will kick up a fuss but only for the sake of the domestic situation," one government minister told Reuters.
Battisti denies the murders and says he is being persecuted politically in Italy.
He faces life in prison there for the murders in the 1970s, a violent period known as the "Years of Lead," when he belonged to a guerrilla group called "Armed Proletarians for Communism."
Battisti is currently serving a short sentence in Brazil, after having been charged with entering the country illegally.
But the head of the country's Supreme Court told local media on Friday that he had to check whether Lula's decision was in compliance with an existing extradition treaty between Italy and Brazil, raising questions about Battisti's exact release date.
Lula, who ends his second term in office on Saturday, had granted Battisti refugee status in January 2009, straining ties with Italy. The pending decision has been one of the main issues during the final days of Lula's presidency.
Several senior members of his leftist Workers' Party had supported Battisti's cause and visited him in prison on the outskirts of the capital Brasilia.
Lula wanted to decide on the case in order to spare his successor, Dilma Rousseff, from having to wade into controversy early in office.
Some analysts had speculated he would wait until the last day of his term in order to avoid renewed diplomatic tensions with Italy.
Battisti escaped from an Italian prison in 1981 and lived in France for years, but fled when Paris approved his extradition in 2006. He was arrested on the run in Brazil.
ReutersLast Mod: 01 Ocak 2011, 10:40