ROME: Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said on Tuesday he was resigning from his post in protest over the return of two Italian marines to India to face murder charges.
"I resign in contention with the decision to send the marines back to India. The misgivings I expressed had no effect on the decision taken," he told parliament.
"I am resigning because for 40 years I have maintained, and still maintain, that the reputation of the country, the armed forces and
Italian diplomacy, should be safeguarded," he said.
"I am also standing down in solidarity with our two marines and their families," Terzi added.
Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, accused of shooting dead two fishermen off the coast of the southwestern Indian state of Kerala in February last year, were sent back to New Delhi on Friday.
The pair, who were serving as security guards on an Italian oil tanker off the Indian port of Kochi last year, claim they mistook the fishermen for pirates.
Following a lengthy dispute over the case, India's Supreme Court granted the two men bail to fly home to vote in Italy's general election last month on condition they were sent back to New Delhi within a month.
Italy agreed and its ambassador to India signed an affidavit taking personal responsibility to return them, which led to fury when Rome announced on March 11 that it was reneging on its commitment.
As the diplomatic crisis escalated, Indian authorities forbade the ambassador from leaving the country and airports were put on alert.
Rome's unexpected decision to return Latorre and Girone sparked anger in Italy, particularly because the men and their families had been previously told they would not be sent back.
"I have always acted for the good of the marines and Italy. If I haven't managed that, I ask forgiveness from everyone, and first of all from both of them," Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola told parliament.
"It was me who told them about the decision to return them to India, I looked them in the eyes and told them," he said.
Di Paolo said he was not resigning because he had promised the marines he would not abandon them.
The two marines were already granted special permission once before to go home to Italy to celebrate Christmas with their families, before returning to India as planned.