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Europe

Italy Relieved, but Anger Simmers Over Shooting

Italy on Saturday welcomed back freed Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena but the joy at her release was marred by the death of a secret agent killed when US troops opened fire on the convoy taking her to safety.

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Sgrena's colleagues jubilate in Italy on hearing news of her release

Freed Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena returned home Saturday, hours after US troops wounded her in a shooting incident near Baghdad airport in which an Italian secret agent was killed.

Giuliana Sgrena von amerikanischem Feuer verletzt

An injured Giuliana Sgrena arrives in Rome

Sgrena, her wounded left shoulder in a bandage, was rushed by ambulance to Rome's Celio military hospital where she was to undergo surgery. She had been given emergency treatment in a US military hospital in Baghdad.

"They (the kidnappers) never treated me badly but I wish things had gone better last night," the exhausted journalist told colleagues of left-wing daily Il Manifesto who greeted her inside the plane. She was the paper's correspondent in Iraq when she was kidnapped in Baghdad a month ago.

The 56-year-old veteran Middle East reporter was greeted at Rome's Ciampino airport by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who boarded the plane as it came to a halt.

The body of Italian secret service agent Nicola Calipari, 51, who was killed throwing his body in front of Sgrena to protect her from gunfire as their car neared a US checkpoint at Baghdad airport, was due to return later Saturday. A military plane repatriating his body left the Iraqi capital as Sgrena was arriving in Rome. Berlusconi was expected to pay his respects to the arriving agent.

Sgrena was hit in the shoulder and lung when US troops opened fire on the convoy taking her to Baghdad airport, killing Calipari. The US military said the convoy had ignored signals to stop, and that US soldiers had waved their hands and arms, flashed white lights and fired warning shots in a failed attempt to get the vehicle to stop.

Sgrena was put under sedatives "because she is in a lot of pain," said her brother who was at the airport to greet her. "Giuliana will undergo surgery for her fractured left collarbone," said Il Manifesto chief editor Gabriele Polo. "The bullet which possibly killed Nicola Calipari was removed (from her shoulder) last night," he added.

Bush apologizes to Berlusconi

Amid anger in Italy at the violent end to Sgrena's month-long ordeal, US President George W. Bush has promised a full investigation into the incident.

Treffen: Präsident Bush und Premierminister Silvio Berlusconi

President Bush and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

US President George W. Bush called Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from the US presidential jet Air Force One late Friday "to express his regret about the incident that occurred earlier today," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in Washington.

"The president assured Prime Minister Berlusconi that the incident will be fully investigated," McClellan said, adding that the two spoke for about five minutes. Sgrena "was fired upon by coalition forces. Apparently there was the loss of one life, an Italian citizen, and she was also injured in the incident," McClellan said. "We regret the loss of life, the Italian citizen who lost his life, and obviously she is in our thoughts and prayers as well."

Berlusconi, a staunch ally of Bush, told a press conference in Rome late Friday there were "disquieting questions" that needed to be answered about the incident. "Several shots hit the car. One man was mortally wounded by a bullet. We are petrified and dumbfounded by this fatality."

Giuliana Sgrena

Giuliana Sgrena

Berlusconi said an agent had thrown his body in front of Sgrena (photo) to protect her from the shots but was fatally wounded. "It is a pity. This was a joyful moment which made all our fellow citizens happy, which has been transformed into profound pain by the death of a person who behaved so bravely."

Anger in Rome

"Like all Italians we now expect the United States to explain this painful and tragic incident," said Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said he hoped Calipari's death would not trigger anti-American sentiment in Italy. "This was a macabre joke of destiny; a tragedy decided by fate," he told daily Corriere della Sera.

Sgrena was kidnapped in Baghdad February 4 by an Iraqi group who called on Rome to withdraw its troops from Iraq. Details of the release were not known Saturday.

She had been shown pleading for her life in a video released by her kidnappers two weeks after her kidnapping in Baghdad. Sobbing and looking thinner, she delivered an impassioned message begging Rome to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Demonstration für die Freilassung von Giuliana Sgrena

Demonstrators in Milan attend a rally to ask the release of Italian journalist of leftist newspaper "Il manifesto" Giuliana Sgrena on Feb. 5.

Berlusconi's centre-right government rejected the plea, and on the same day used its majority to ensure the Italian Senate voted to extend the mission of Rome's 3,000 troops in Iraq. A few days after the video was shown, an estimated half a million people marched in Rome to demand her release.

Sgrena's newspaper, the Rome-based communist daily Il Manifesto, is a bitter opponent of the US-led invasion of Iraq. The journalist also contributes to German weekly Die Zeit.

Meanwhile in France, journalists at the left-wing daily Liberation were hopeful that Sgrena's release could spell good news for its own correspondent, Florence Aubenas, abducted two months ago in Baghdad.

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