With an angry blast at the United States, Prime Minister Bettino Craxi resigned today after his government collapsed under criticism of his handling of the Italian cruise ship hijacking.
In a statement to Parliament, the Socialist premier accused Washington of using a "polemical tone" that "gave me a feeling of bitterness, for the failure of a friendly government to recognize all the Italian government did" to help resolve the hijacking.
The fate of Italy's 44th postwar government, which in a month would have been the longest-lived, was sealed Wednesday by the resignations of Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini and two other Cabinet members from his Republican Party.
Spurred by Abbas Decision
They quit over the decision to release Abul Abbas, a PLO official the United States accuses of directing the hijacking last week of the cruise liner Achille Lauro. Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old American passenger, was killed while four Palestinian pirates, now in Italian custody, controlled the ship.
The foreign policy conflict brought down the center-left coalition, which included five parties, after 26 months in office.
Four Palestinians hijacked the ship Oct. 7 off Port Said, Egypt, and surrendered Oct. 9. U.S. Navy jets from the aircraft carrier Saratoga intercepted an Egyptian airliner carrying the pirates and Abbas and forced it to land at a NATO air base in Sicily early Friday, Oct. 11.
Abbas was not held and was permitted to travel to Yugoslavia.
Craxi said in his speech that the United States had asked him to get in touch with Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, at the start of negotiations for release of the Achille Lauro and those aboard.
The premier said he had lodged a protest with the U.S. government, charging that Italian airspace had been violated. He claimed two American warplanes followed the Egyptian airliner, without authorization, when it flew from Sicily to Ciampino military airport in Rome last Friday night with Abbas aboard.
Defense Minister Spadolini, whose resignation caused the coalition to collapse, told reporters later that Craxi's account of the alleged violation by U.S. planes was accurate "in every detail."
The Yugoslav government, meanwhile, today formally rejected a U.S. request for the extradition of Abbas, who was said to have left Yugoslavia on Monday.
A government spokesman said Yugoslavia was guided by its longstanding policy of recognizing the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people. Therefore, he said, Abbas had diplomatic immunity because he is a member of the PLO's executive council.
Youngest Called Killer
Israel's military intelligence chief and an Italian prosecutor both said today that they know who killed Klinghoffer. They identified him only as the youngest of four Palestinian pirates.
Italian news agencies have said that a hijacker they identified as Hallah Abdullah Alhsan is the youngest, 19.
Doctors in Italy today confirmed the presence of bullet wounds in Klinghoffer's head and chest, and said his left leg was mutilated and his right forearm torn off, possibly by fish after the hijackers threw his body into the sea on Oct. 8.