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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 September, 2004, 22:30 GMT 23:30 UK
Relief at Italian hostages' release
By Tamsin Smith
BBC reporter in Rome

The candlelit vigil outside the Italian parliament for the two aid workers is finally over.

Two unidentified women at the window of the Italian aid organisation Un Ponte Per (A Bridge for ..) after the news of the hostages' release
Italians had been holding their breath
On Tuesday evening, the candles were blown out and the peace flags folded up, not in mourning but in joy as Italy celebrated the release of Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, kidnapped on 7 September.

"I'm so happy," says Francesca, 28. "I just didn't expect good news, everyone really expected the worst... but now we see that the pacifist people are not as vulnerable as we thought."

"I've called all my family to tell them," says Stefano who found out from a delighted passer-by.

Fearing the worst

Since the news was announced, national television channel Rai has been rolling its coverage non-stop.

The sense of relief is tangible.

Italy has been holding its breath since the Islamic extremist group Ansar al-Zawahiri claimed that the hostages had been murdered.

The agonising wait for news is all too familiar, and Italians had good reason to fear the worst.

Italian security guard Fabrizio Quattrocchi was the first Western hostage killed in Iraq, followed last month by journalist Enzo Baldini.

Familiar faces

The plight of the two young women who went to Iraq to try to help ordinary Iraqis has captured the sympathy of a nation.

Television networks played videos of the two Simonas playing with Iraqi children and working with local schools.

Simona Torretta and Simona Pari
They look just like my daughters
Italian woman

Newspapers recounted the enthusiasm of the women for their projects.

Now their faces are familiar to everyone.

Giant photos of Ms Pari and Ms Torretta wearing headscarves have smiled down from buildings around Rome since their capture.

"They look just like my daughters," one woman told me upon hearing the initial news of the kidnap.

Now there is a rare show of unity from both sides of the Italian parliament.

Politicians from all sides of the political spectrum usually deeply divided over Italy's role in Iraq burst into applause as Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced the news.

He thanked the intelligence services of Iraq's neighbouring countries and indicated that Italian secret services were involved in up to 16 negotiations, without revealing further details.





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