Barbara McMahon in Rome
A 10-year-old girl, who said she was sexually abused and beaten at an orphanage in her native Belarus, has been sent back to the former Soviet republic from Italy amid bitter recriminations from the couple who had hoped to adopt her.
Alessandro Giusto and his wife, Chiara Bornacin, denounced the Italian authorities for agreeing to the repatriation. The child has been at the centre of a case that has strained relations between the two countries. "They took her away like thieves, hidden, without even her clothes, without saying goodbye to those who love her. It's disgusting, disgusting. I'm ashamed to be Italian," said Ms Bornacin.
The girl, known only as Maria to protect her identity, had spent summers with the couple for the past four years, one of thousands of Belarusian children who have benefited from a programme set up after the Chernobyl nuclear accident. She had been due to return to Belarus last month, but was sent into hiding by the couple after telling them she had been abused.
Police found Maria, after nearly three weeks on the run, with the women she called her "grannies" - the mothers of her temporary foster parents. They had been staying in a monastery in Valle D'Aosta, in north-western Italy, after being given refuge by a priest.
Maria was flown back to her home country late on Friday evening in the company of Italian and Belarusian child psychologists. Belarusian authorities described her as "serene and tranquil" and said she may be sent to stay with a family that had already adopted her younger brother. An accord between the two countries will allow the Italian couple to keep in touch by letter and send her clothes, books and toys.