ROME – Italy's foreign minister resigned Tuesday to protest his government's decision to send two marines back to India to face trial in the deaths of two fishermen.
Minister Giulio Terzi made the surprise announcement to Parliament after offering a report on the case of the Italian marines to lawmakers. He denied the government had no knowledge of his March 11 decision not to send the two sailors back to face trial in Italy.
"I can no longer be part of this government," Terzi declared.
A career diplomat, Terzi said he was quitting in solidarity with the marines and because he disagreed with the government's decision to send them back but his "voice was not listened to." He also said wanted to safeguard Italy's image abroad.
Caretaker Premier Mario Monti expressed "astonishment" at the decision and said in a statement that he had not been informed ahead of time, even though they had met earlier in the day to discuss Terzi's report to lawmakers.
Monti said he would address the case in both houses of Parliament on Wednesday.
President Giorgio Napolitano, in the meantime, gave Monti the foreign ministry portfolio. Monti's caretaker government remains in place until a new government can be formed following inconclusive national elections last month. Center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani, who is in consultations on forming a new government, declined comment on the case.
The sailors — Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone — were part of a military security team on a cargo ship when they fired at a fishing boat in 2012, killing two Indian fishermen. The marines said they mistook them for pirates.
The marines had been allowed to return to Italy to vote in the Feb. 24-25 national election and were scheduled to return to India on March 22 — as they had after being allowed to spend Christmas with the families in Italy.
Terzi announced on March 11 that they would not return to India, expressing concern that their rights were not being respected there. Italy has insisted that the shooting happened in international waters and that Rome should have jurisdiction.
Italy, however, sent them back last week, saying it had received written assurances that India would not impose the death penalty in the event of a conviction.