Return of Italian marine, held in India over killing of fishermen, sought on medical grounds

ROME (AFP) - Lawyers for one of the two Italian marines detained in India over the 2012 killing of two fishermen have launched a bid to have him flown home on medical grounds, defence officials said Saturday.

Massimiliano Latorre has spent the last week in hospital in New Delhi after collapsing at the Italian Embassy with an ischemia - a blockage in the flow of blood to the brain which can lead to a stroke.

His legal team have lodged an emergency request with India's Supreme Court for him to be granted leave to return to Italy to continue his recuperation and a first hearing has been scheduled for Monday, a spokesman for the Defence Ministry in Rome told AFP.

Latorre's legal team will argue that, having suffered a potentially life-threatening episode, the Chief Master Sergeant should be allowed to return to Italy in order to reduce the risk of a stress-induced repeat incident while he awaits the resolution of a case that has dragged on for over two years and has soured diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Latorre's lawyers in India said last week he was recovering well in the neurology unit of a clinic in the Indian capital and Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti, who made a bedside visit to Latorre on Monday, has praised the care he has received from his Indian doctors.

Latorre and fellow marine Salvatore Girone are currently barred from leaving India pending a possible trial and have been living at Italy's Embassy in New Delhi.

They are accused of shooting the two fishermen while serving as security on an Italian-flagged oil tanker, the Enrica Lexie, off the southern Indian state of Kerala in February 2012.

They say they mistook the fishing boat for a pirate vessel and only fired warning shots. The marines were on board the tanker as part of a United Nations-mandated anti-piracy operation.

Criminal proceedings against the two men were suspended in March when India's top court agreed to consider a challenge to prosecutors' jurisdiction in the case and a request for the marines to be allowed home pending its outcome.

The marines were granted a home visit to vote in national elections last year. That led to an aggravation of the diplomatic spat as Italy briefly resisted sending the men back before finally succumbing to India's pressure in March - a move which triggered the resignation of the then foreign minister.

The government in Rome insists the two men should be tried on home soil since the shootings involved an Italian-flagged vessel in what Italy maintains were international waters. India says the killings took place in its territorial waters and the perpetrators should face Indian justice.

Both governments have lately been seeking to take the heat out of the dispute with both sides' prime ministers Narendra Modi and Matteo Renzi expressing the desire for a speedy resolution.

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