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India Said to Alert Airports to Prevent Italy Envoy Leaving

India alerted airports nationwide to prevent the Italian ambassador from leaving the country amid an escalating diplomatic row triggered by Italy’s decision to block the return of two marines charged with killing fishermen.

The notice was issued by the Home Ministry in New Delhi today, according to a ministry official with direct knowledge of the matter. The official asked not to be named as he’s not authorized to speak publicly. Calls to the mobile phones of two Foreign Ministry press officers in Rome were not answered.

A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Altamas Kabir yesterday ordered envoy Daniele Mancini not to leave the country without its permission, and requested he explain by March 18 the Italian government’s move.

Italy will seek a “friendly solution” to the standoff with India “based on international law,” Italian President Giorgio Napolitano said in an e-mailed statement.

The court allowed the marines to leave India to vote in Italy’s election following an undertaking from Mancini that they would be sent back within four weeks. The men, who were guarding an Italian-flagged tanker from pirate attack on its journey across the Indian Ocean, are charged with shooting dead two fishermen in waters off the Indian state of Kerala.

Standoff Intensifying

The standoff between the two nations over the fate of the men has steadily intensified, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh this week saying there would be “consequences” for bilateral ties if Italian authorities in Rome don’t “keep their word.” India’s foreign ministry said it is reviewing the full range of its relations with Italy.

“If it wasn’t a Supreme Court matter and only between the two governments, they could have consultations and take their own decisions,” said Shashank, a former foreign secretary of India. “Now the court has to decide what action it would like to take. And the government can’t go beyond the court order.”

Mancini “waived his diplomatic immunity” by voluntarily giving the undertaking to the Supreme Court that the marines would return, said Shashank, who uses only one name.

India’s foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told reporters yesterday in New Delhi that the “entire expanse of our interaction” with Italy is being reviewed, while underscoring that Italy must respect agreements its ambassador submitted to India’s top court.

Diplomatic Immunity

The court order doesn’t violate the ambassador’s diplomatic immunity as he had willingly submitted himself to the court’s jurisdiction, said Akbaruddin. “No aspect of the Vienna convention has been impacted on,” he said.

The marines were guarding the Enrica Lexie tanker on its journey to Egypt from Singapore, a route that includes crossing the Indian Ocean, where Somali pirates operate.

Italy has argued that the men shot the two fishermen in self-defense suspecting them to be pirates, and that the marines should be tried in their own country because the incident occurred in seas outside of India’s jurisdiction. India says the attack happened in its territorial waters off the southern state of Kerala.

“Everything that is necessary to ensure the dignity and the primacy of India in this matter will be preserved,” Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid told reporters in New Delhi yesterday. “This is a matter that will be treated with greatest urgency. We have to take steps.”

India on March 12 summoned ambassador Mancini to protest his government’s decision.

Bribes Alleged

The attempted prosecution of the Italians is the first to hold armed maritime guards accountable for the deaths of innocent people in an anti-piracy operation. Relations between the two countries were further strained by allegations that bribes were paid by AgustaWestland, a unit of Italy’s Finmeccanica SpA (FNC), to secure the contract to supply 12 civilian helicopters to the Indian government.

Mancini informed the Indian authorities that marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone “won’t return to India,” the European nation’s Foreign Ministry said March 11. The Italian government said India failed to respond to a request to negotiate a diplomatic solution.

Ferrari SpA, the Italian sports carmaker, even weighed in, having two of its cars carry the flag of the Italian navy during the Oct. 28 Formula One grand-prix race in New Delhi.

India’s Chief Justice ruled in January that the two men could be put on trial, ordering hearings before a specially convened court in the capital.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bibhudatta Pradhan in New Delhi at bpradhan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Hari Govind at hgovind@bloomberg.net

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