Bruni denies asked Brazil not to extradite Italian

MILAN Sun Jan 25, 2009 9:31pm GMT

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MILAN (Reuters) - French first lady Carla Bruni went on Italian TV on Sunday to deny reports she had persuaded Brazil not to extradite an Italian guerrilla, after criticism in her homeland last year for supporting a guerrilla exiled in France.

Italian-born singer and former model Bruni, who married French President Nicolas Sarkozy a year ago, told a television show she was "very surprised the Italian media should think I played such a role."

"I would never dare, first of all because it is not my ideology, I have never tried to defend Cesare Battisti," she told state network RAI in a pre-recorded interview.

She was responding to accusations from a group of victims of terrorism last week that she was somehow behind a decision by Brazilian President Lula da Silva to grant political refuge to Battisti, who escaped from an Italian prison in 1981.

He faces life in jail for four murders in the 1970s, an era known as the "Years of Lead," when he belonged to the "Armed Proletarians for Communism." He fled to France and then to Brazil, where he was arrested in 2007.

Bruni has already been criticised by Italian politicians for her sympathies with a Red Brigades guerrilla living in France, Marina Petrella. When France refused to extradite her last year, Bruni visited Petrella in hospital to give her the news.

The 41-year-old comes from a northern industrial family who sold up and left Italy in the 1970s to escape the violence. She professes left-wing views but told RAI she was "more leftist" before marrying right-winger Sarkozy.

"But I was never really militant," she said.

The victims of terrorism group accused Bruni of persuading Da Silva not to extradite Battisti, though it did not say how it came by such information, which was denied by Sarkozy's office.

"The wife of a president of the Republic would never go and talk to the Brazilian president about something that has nothing to do with France," Bruni told RAI.

The Battisti case came close to causing a diplomatic row with Brazil. Italian President Giorgio Napolitano expressed "surprise and concern" at Brazil's move and Rome said it was considering withdrawing its ambassador to Brazil in protest.

(Writing by Stephen Brown in Rome; editing by Ralph Boulton)

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