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SLUG: 2-322611 Italy Hostage / Iraq (L-O)
TITLE=ITALY / HOSTAGE / IRAQ (L-O)
HEADLINE: Italy Extends Military Mission in Iraq
INTRO: Italy's upper house of parliament has voted to extend the country's troop deployment in Iraq through June. The vote came just hours after a video was shown of an Italian journalist kidnapped in Iraq appealing for help and the withdrawal of the troops. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome
TEXT: Funding for Italy's three-thousand-strong military mission in Iraq was approved by the Senate as expected. The motion requires approval by the lower house before it is implemented. But no surprises are expected there as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's center-right coalition has a comfortable majority.
The vote came just hours after Italian television broadcast pictures of the 56-year-old journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who is being held hostage in Iraq, appealing for help.
Relatives and colleagues of the journalist, who works for the leftist newspaper Il Manifesto, were relieved to see she was still alive. But they were also concerned with her anguished message. They said she looked thinner and sounded desperate.
In the video, Ms. Sgrena also appealed to her companion, Pierre Scolari, to spread word that she was in Iraq to report on the sufferings of Iraqi people.
/// ACT SCOLARI, ITALIAN FADE UNDER ///
She's alive, said Mr. Scolari. He added that she seemed in relative good health and could speak. She was not tied, he added.
He added that the video represents the beginning of a path that might lead to her freedom. And Ms. Sgrena's editor said the video represented new hope.
Ms. Sgrena was abducted by unidentified gunmen February 4th near Baghdad university.
Prime Minister Berlusconi expressed happiness that the journalist was still alive. Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said all efforts to obtain her release would continue, but he made clear Italy would not change its strategy in Iraq. (SIGNED)
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