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Leftist Lawmakers in Italy Threaten to Vote Against Italy's Afghan Mission

18 January 2007

Members of the far left in Italy's governing coalition are threatening to vote against refinancing the country's mission to Afghanistan. As Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome, the lawmakers are angry at the government's decision to allow the United States to expand a base in northern Italy.

Communist and other far-left members of Italy's center-left government want Italy to pull its troops out of Afghanistan, and some of the lawmakers now say they will vote against the refinancing of Italy's mission there.

This could put Prime Minister Romano Prodi in a difficult position because he has only a tiny majority in parliament to pass legislation. A date for a vote on refinancing the mission for 2007 is expected to be set next week.

The center-right government of Silvio Berlusconi, which preceded the Prodi government, sent the Italian troops to Afghanistan. Mr. Prodi has agreed to keep Italy's 1,800-strong contingent there. But a vote against refinancing the mission could leave the mission without funds and force a troop pullout.

Two Communist parties and the Green party said they would vote against it. Members of far left parties were angered this week when Prime Minister Prodi announced he would not oppose the expansion of a U.S. military base in the northern city of Vicenza.

Hundreds of Vicenza residents this week demonstrated against the expansion of the base, which will double its size. Opponents argue that enlarging the base could militarize the city and make it a target for terrorists.

This demonstrator said Americans come here and want to create a base for war and we don't want it.

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking to reporters at Bagram Air Base, the main U.S. military air hub in Afghanistan, said that commanders in Afghanistan had recommended a troop increase and he appeared to favor this.

It is not expected such a troop deployment would exceed two-thousand soldiers.

Gates said he wanted to ensure that gains made against extremism in Afghanistan since the U.S. invaded to topple the Taleban regime in October 2001 were not lost as the Taleban re-emerged.

U.S. military officers in Afghanistan say the Taleban has been regrouping, at least to the extent that it was able last year to launch many more attacks on U.S. and allied forces than in 2005.

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