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Italy Says Troops to Stay in Iraq

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi told the Senate on Tuesday that Italian troops would be pulled out of Iraq only when that country "feels safe."

Addressing the parliament ahead of a vote to refinance the Iraqi mission, the premier said that withdrawing Italian troops now would be tantamount to "betraying the hopes of the Iraqis as well as their hopes for democracy."

"We are ready to return to Italy when Iraq feels safe," said Berlusconi, stressing that at this stage "the mission will continue."

Italy did "not participate in the war" while its soldiers have done their bit to support the budding democracy, the premier said.

"Our soldiers were sent to Iraq to participate in the reconstruction" of that country, Berlusconi said.

He urged the opposition's centrist parties to vote for the continued deployment of Italy's 3,200-strong force despite an announcement that the center-left parties would vote against releasing funds to continue the mission.

Berlusconi is a staunch ally of US President George W. Bush and the Italian government enjoys a strong parliamentary majority so the center-left opposition will not prevent the refinancing of the Iraqi mission.

(Xinhua News Agency February 16, 2005)

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