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Italy fugitive on hunger strike

14 November 09 14:47 GMT

A former Italian left-wing radical has gone on hunger strike in a Brazilian prison as part of a protest to stop his possible extradition to Italy.

Cesare Battisti escaped from an Italian prison in 1981, while awaiting trial for the murders of four people.

He was arrested in Brazil in 2007 and is in jail there, awaiting a Supreme Court decision on extradition.

He is reported to have written a letter to the Brazilian president saying he would rather die in Brazil than return.

In the 1970s, he was a member of a militant group calling itself Armed Proletarians for Communism.

Battisti, who is now 54, escaped from prison while awaiting trial for his role in the murders of a police officer, a prison guard, a butcher and a jeweller.

He has always denied any part in the killings.

Split decision

Battisti was convicted in absentia by an Italian court and sentenced to life in prison.

He lived in France for years, becoming a popular crime writer, but fled to Brazil in 2004 after Paris approved a bid to extradite him.

He was arrested in Rio de Janeiro two years ago and has been in detention since.

He was granted political refugee status by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in January.

Brazilian officials have suggested Battisti's life could be at risk if he returned home - a claim that has infuriated the authorities in Rome.

Brazil's Supreme Court is expected to make a final ruling within a few days, although judges are split over the decision.

This means the chief justice will have to use his vote to break the four-four tie.

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