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Friday, March 5, 1999 Published at 03:16 GMT

World: Americas

Anger over cable car verdict

Relatives left the court with heads bowed after the verdict

The acquittal of a United States marine pilot accused of causing last year's cable car disaster in the Italian Alps has provoked shock and indignation in Italy.

Mark McDonald: "The White House denies a rift with Italy"
A military jury in the US cleared Marine Captain Richard Ashby of all charges relating to the deaths of 20 people killed when his jet hit sliced through ski-lift cables in the town of Cavalese.

He was found not guilt of involuntary manslaughter and of the lesser charges of destruction of property and dereliction of duty over the incident, which happened at the ski resort of Mount Cermis in February 1998.

Orla Guerin in Rome: "It is very difficult to know what action the Italian Government could take"
The Italian Prime Minister, Massimo d'Alema, who is on a visit to the United States, said he would raise the matter when he saw President Clinton on Friday.

"With that kind of a massacre, with so many casualties, I think it is a duty to ensure that justice is done," he said.

Italian Justice Minister Oliviero Diliberto said his country was not looking for a scapegoat but wanted the truth.

A State Department spokesman in Washington said the strength of ties between the United States and Italy had enabled the two countries to work through the tragedy.

'A Slap in the face'

In Italy, leading Communist MP, Armando Cossutta, described it as a slap in the face for Italy and for the memory of the victims.

Italian MP Valdo Spini reacts to the verdict
Valdo Spini, chairman of the Defence Committee of Italy's lower house of parliament, said: "I am outraged and indignant at this verdict, which takes no account of Italy's ban on low-level flights."

Alberto Mioni, who represents the Association of the Relatives of Victims of Cermis, said: "It would surely have been better and more serious to have had the trial here in Italy." He said he feared compensation claims would also be denied.

[ image: Rescuers found no survivors on night of accident]
Rescuers found no survivors on night of accident
Correspondents say that in the resort town of Cavalese itself, the mood is one of shock and deep disappointment.

Locals claim the disaster was an accident waiting to happen, because US military pilots often flew too low and too fast in the area and, they say, they are still doing so.

Residents say the loss of 20 lives has not stopped what they claim is a pattern of reckless low-level flying.

Nick Bryant looks into the backround of the case
A support group for the bereaved families based in Cavalese says the relatives will now try to bring their case before an international court.

Lawyers for the seven German families are asking for $5m damages for each victim.

The United States gave $20m to the people of Cavalese to build a new cable car, but the Pentagon said it would not settle any additional claims.

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