Afghan convert arrives in Italy for asylum
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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- The Afghan man who converted to Christianity and could have been executed for renouncing Islam has arrived in Italy for asylum, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced at a news conference.
Earlier, Berlusconi said Italy would be happy to grant asylum to Rahman, and the Italian Cabinet approved an amnesty offer.
"I say that we are very glad to be able to welcome someone who has been so courageous," a spokesman quoted Berlusconi as saying.
Abdul Rahman, who is under police protection, will officially request asylum on Thursday, and a commission will analyze that request, according to an Interior Ministry official. According to Italian law, the commission will be made up of two Interior Ministry members and a representative from the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner.
The process could take up to a month.
Italy agreed to grant asylum for Rahman days after Pope Benedict XVI personally appealed to Afghan President Hamid Karzai to show clemency. In the letter, the Roman Catholic leader said if Karzai released Rahman, it would foster mutual understanding and respect among the world's religions.
There had been some doubt about whether Rahman would be allowed to leave Afghanistan, after the country's parliament voted earlier Wednesday that he should remain there, a member of parliament told CNN.
The parliament also approved a measure to allow members of parliament access to court documents in the case so it could conduct its own review of the matter, the parliamentarian said.
Rahman was released from an Afghan prison Tuesday. He had been held by Afghan authorities for abandoning Islam, which is punishable by death under Islamic law. Many Muslim clerics in the country called for his death, and said that even if he were freed his life would be in danger.
Rahman's case illustrates a split over the interpretation of the Afghan constitution, which calls for religious freedom while stating that Muslims who reject Islam can be executed.
Ahead of Rahman's release, clerics wrote Karzai asking him to prevent Western nations from interfering with their religious practices and customs.
About 1,000 people demonstrated in Mazar-e-Sharif on Monday, chanting "Death to America" and "Death to George Bush."
U.S. troops overthrew Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, which had harbored the al Qaeda terrorist network, after al Qaeda's September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
U.S. troops are still battling Taliban and al Qaeda remnants in parts of the country. Bush frequently touts the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan as a success in the battle against terrorism.
Rahman, 41, reportedly converted 16 years ago while he was a medical aid worker for an international nongovernmental organization.
CNN Rome Bureau Chief Alessio Vinci contributed to this report.
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