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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2006, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
Italy rejects fresh kidnap demand
Gabriele Torsello (image from his website)
Gabriele Torsello is a Muslim convert
Italy will not withdraw its troops from Afghanistan as demanded by the kidnappers of an Italian journalist, Italy's defence minister has said.

The kidnappers of Gabriele Torsello have threatened to kill him unless all Italian troops leave Afghanistan by Sunday - the end of Ramadan.

Mr Torsello was seized last Thursday in the dangerous south of Afghanistan.

His kidnappers initially wanted to trade him for an Afghan convert to Christianity who took refuge in Italy.

Fierce fighting

Speaking to reporters in Cairo, Italian Defence Minister Arturo Parisi categorically ruled out withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

"We are in Afghanistan and we will stay there," Mr Parisi said. "It is the Afghans who ask us to.

"If we pulled out every time someone kidnapped an Italian, we wouldn't be able to send our troops on any mission."

If we pulled out every time someone kidnapped an Italian, we wouldn't be able to send our troops on any mission
Arturo Parisi
Italian Defence Minister

Italy has about 1,800 troops in Kabul and the west of Afghanistan as part of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force.

Mr Torsello, a photojournalist, was seized last week while travelling on a bus near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

The area has seen fierce fighting in recent months between Taleban militants and Nato-led foreign troops.

'Afghan apostate'

The kidnappers initially offered to free him in exchange for a Christian convert, Abdul Rahman, who was granted asylum in Italy earlier this year.

Mr Rahman had escaped a possible death sentence for becoming a Christian.

Mr Torsello is a convert to Islam.

Italian Defence Minister Arturo Parisi
Italy's Defence Minister Arturo Parisi says "we would be crazy to withdraw"
His kidnappers placed their initial demand in a phone call to a hospital in southern Afghanistan run by Italian aid agency Emergency, said the Italian-based PeaceReporter website which is linked to the agency.

The website also said the kidnappers made the fresh demand for the withdrawal of Italian troops from Afghanistan in a phone call to Emergency's security adviser in Lashkar Gah.

"If it's not possible to obtain the Afghan apostate," PeaceReporter quotes the kidnappers as saying, "then we want all the Italian troops out of Afghanistan."

The "Afghan apostate" refers to Mr Rahman.

The BBC's Mark Duff in Milan says the Italian secret services are believed to be working behind the scenes to negotiate Mr Torsello's freedom by going through contacts trusted by the kidnappers.

It is possible they may offer a financial reward, our correspondent says.

But the men holding Mr Torsello have made it clear they are not interested in money, and the threatened deadline of the end of Ramadan is drawing close.

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