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Italy horror at hostage execution

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Italy horror at hostage execution
Black arm bands for Italian team at Olympics

ROME, Italy -- Italy reacted with horror at the killing of hostage Enzo Baldoni in Iraq, with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi insisting that Italian troops would not leave.

"There are no words for an inhumane act that ... cancels centuries of civilization to bring us back to the Dark Ages," Berlusconi said in a statement.

In Athens, Italians competing at the Olympic Games were to honor Enzo Baldoni, 56, by wearing black arm bands during Friday's events, a spokesman for the Italian Olympic team told Reuters. (Full story)

They included the Italian men's soccer team, which plays Iraq in the bronze medal match in the Olympic tournament later Friday in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki.

In an interview with RAI state radio, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the killing of freelance journalist Baldoni was "an act of barbarity, a horrendous act that has struck a courageous journalist who had gone to Iraq to help the Iraqi people." (Italian journalist slain)

Frattini echoed Berlusconi's assertion that Italy would maintain its troop presence in Iraq despite Baldoni's killing. "The Italian undertaking in Iraq cannot and should not change," Frattini told RAI.

Frattini was due to address a parliamentary commission on Italy's role in Iraq later Friday.

In a front page article Friday in Italy's top daily Corriere della Sera, analyst Sergio Romano wrote: "Among the many horrors of the Iraq war, the massacre of Enzo Baldoni is for us a tragic, incomprehensible, Italian bereavement.

"To some, it will maybe seem that Baldoni died for nothing. To us, it seems that he died to remain faithful to his own character in a world in which generosity and imagination are despised and trampled on," Romano wrote.

"If it wasn't already overused, particularly among Muslims, the word 'martyr' should probably best feature on his gravestone," he added.

La Stampa called it an act of "madness" in "a war without rules."

Baldoni was not a soldier and not a spy, La Stampa said. He was not a "hawk" supporting the war and was not their to defend a big company's oil interests.

"But he was an Italian," the paper said. "And as such that was enough for the Islamic terrorist killers to decree his killing."

The left-wing La Repubblica said that Baldoni's kidnappers, a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq, were driven by ideology.

"The Italian choice of going to Iraq is controversial in our country, and in our view wrong, but that is also ideological," the paper said.

Italy backed U.S.-led war in Iraq
Berlusconi's decision to back U.S. President George W. Bush in Iraq came despite public opinion in Italy being against the war.

Before the conflict, one million people marched through the streets of Rome against the war -- one of Europe's biggest anti-war demonstrations.

Although Italian troops did not fight in the war, they were sent in to help rebuild the country after Saddam Hussein was toppled. At 3,000, they are the third-largest contingent in Iraq.

"We are wondering how many more deaths are necessary before we recognize this war was a tragic mistake," Greens leader Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio told The Associated Press in response to the report of Baldoni's death. The center-left opposition has opposed the war.

Baldoni had gone missing last week. He was shown apparently in the hands of extremists in Iraq on video footage broadcast Tuesday by Al-Jazeera.

In the video, a militant group calling itself "The Islamic Army in Iraq" did not threaten Baldoni directly, but said in a statement it could not guarantee his safety unless Italy announced within 48 hours that it would withdraw its troops from Iraq, according to Al-Jazeera.

Friends and associates described Baldoni as an optimistic man with much curiosity, a sense of adventure and a keen sense of irony.

Between 2001 and 2003 he traveled to Colombia, where he spent about three months. During his second trip, he was kidnapped for a few hours by guerrilla fighters.

"Some people think I am some sort of a Rambo who loves strong emotions and seeing people die," he once said, according to Rome's La Repubblica newspaper. "I am miles away from that mentality. I am a convinced pacifist and for that reason I am curious to understand what make normal people brandish a gun."

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