ROME - Italy granted asylum Wednesday to an Afghan who faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity, and Premier Silvio Berlusconi said the man was in the care of the Interior Ministry after arriving in Italy earlier in the day.
Abdul Rahman "is already in Italy. I think he arrived overnight," Berlusconi said, declining to release more details.
Rahman's jailing in Afghanistan inspired an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and efforts by the United Nations to find a country to take him.Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini had been outspoken about the case from the start, saying Italy had a duty to make clear its "indignation."
Italy has close ties with Afghanistan, whose former king, Mohammed Zaher Shah, was allowed to live with his family in exile in Rome for 30 years. The former royals returned to Kabul after the fall of the Taliban regime a few years ago.
Italian troops were sent into Afghanistan after the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2001 to help with reconstruction. Italy has about 1,775 troops in Afghanistan.
Muslim clerics in Afghanistan condemned Rahman's release, saying it was a "betrayal of Islam," and threatened to incite violent protests.
Some 500 Muslim leaders, students and others gathered Wednesday in a mosque in southern Qalat town and criticized the government for releasing Rahman, said Abdulrahman Jan, the top cleric in Zabul province.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Rahman in Italy...