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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 August, 2004, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Wanted Italian leftist on the run
Cesare Battisti at a book signing
Battisti has become a successful crime writer since moving to France
French police have launched a manhunt for a convicted killer who used to belong to a 1970s left-wing extremist group in Italy.

Cesare Battisti, who was facing extradition to Italy from France, went missing on Saturday after failing to report to Paris police.

A former member of the radical Armed Proletarians for Communism, Mr Battisti is wanted in Italy for four murders.

France agreed to extradite him to Italy but an appeal held up the process.

Mr Battisti, who has made a successful career as a crime writer, escaped from prison in Italy in 1981 and turned up in France in 1990, where he was granted asylum by then President Francois Mitterrand.

The French justice ministry has now instructed the Paris prosecutor's office to request a warrant for his arrest.

Extradition granted

An Italian request for his extradition in 1991 failed.

At the time, France offered sanctuary to former leftist militants from Italy who renounced their violent pasts - an offer taken up by several former guerrillas.

But on 30 June this year, the presiding judge at the Paris appeals court, Norbert Gurtner, threw out that line of reasoning and said he would favour the extradition request.

Mr Battisti was sentenced in absentia to carrying out or helping to plan four murders in 1978 and 1979 - including those of a policeman and prison guard.

He says he was not granted a fair trial.

"It was a social conflict. There were deaths, a lot of violence. Trials during that period in my view have no value," he said, according to AFP news agency.

His case has become something of a cause celebre, with an internet petition of support attracting 20,000 signatures, including those of some prominent politicians.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, groups from Italy's far left and right waged violent campaigns of killings and bombings as they tried to bring down the government.

The French policy of granting amnesty to Italian leftists accused of violent crimes was based on French disapproval at Italy's policy of mass arrests and use of informants.

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