ROME Italy recalled its ambassador to Brazil on Friday after the South American country refused to extradite a former left-wing guerrilla convicted of four murders.
The decision by Brazil's supreme court earlier this week to uphold a government refusal to extradite Italian Cesare Battisti, allowing him to walk free, has brought relations between the two countries to a low point.
Italian officials, including President Giorgio Napolitano, condemned it as a violation of international agreements.
The foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday it had temporarily recalled its envoy to discuss judicial bilateral accords between the two countries, with a view to taking international action to reverse the decision.
Italy has said it wants to take the case to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
"What we have failed to achieve through the national judicial route we can achieve through the international judicial route," Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.
Battisti escaped from an Italian prison in 1981 and lived in France for several years, but fled when Paris approved his extradition in 2006. He was arrested in Brazil in 2007.
The former guerrilla faces life imprisonment in Italy, where he was convicted of four murders during the so-called "Years of Lead" in the 1970s, when Italy was under assault from extremist groups. He belonged to one group called "Armed Proletarians for Communism."
The Italian government had invested much time and prestige in the effort to have him extradited.
Frattini has called it "a slap in the face of the whole democratic world that fights terrorism," saying it was "shameful" that Battisti would now be able to sun himself on a Brazilian beach.
President Napolitano, who rarely weighs in publicly on international affairs, issued a statement deploring the decision as a "grave wound" in relations with Brazil.
Relatives of Battisti's victims expressed outrage, while some politicians called for a boycott of Brazilian goods.
On Friday several protesters gathered outside the Brazilian embassy in Rome holding banners with slogans reading "Battisti is a murderer" and "Go to Jail!"
The Brazilian supreme court upheld a decision last year by then President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva not to extradite Battisti.
He had granted Battisti refugee status in 2009-- which went counter to an earlier Brazilian court ruling -- based on the view that he could face political persecution if extradited, a position rejected by Rome.
(Editing by Barry Moody and Mark Trevelyan)
Our top photos from the last 24 hours.