Page last updated at 11:18 GMT, Monday, 21 September 2009 12:18 UK

Italians mourn Afghanistan dead


Italian state funeral for Afghan dead

Italy is holding a day of mourning for six soldiers killed in a bomb attack in Afghanistan last week, with a state funeral taking place in Rome.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and other political leaders attended the ceremony with the victims' families.

Thousands applauded outside the church, as comrades of the fallen men carried their coffins to and from the service.

The deaths, Italy's single biggest loss of life in the war, have prompted a debate about the mission's future.

The BBC's Duncan Kennedy in Rome says the deaths have made a powerful impact on Italy, with extensive coverage in newspapers and on television.

Military flypast

Mr Berlusconi, President Giorgio Napolitano, members of the armed forces and leaders of major political parties attended the funeral, at Rome's Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls.

Boy touches father's coffin
The deaths have stunned the Italian public

Four servicemen wounded in the same attack were also present.

The ceremony was carried live on state and private TV channels.

Mourners, many waving the Italian tricolour flag, clapped as the coffins arrived on military lorries and were carried by fellow soldiers into and out of the church.

In a message of condolence read out at the beginning of the ceremony, Pope Benedict XVI said he was "deeply saddened" by the attack, and prayed for God's support for "those who work every day to build solidarity, reconciliation and peace".

The soldiers' chaplain paid tribute to the six men in turn.

To end the funeral, military aircraft flew past in formation trailing the national colours of green, white and red.

Afterwards, the soldiers' bodies were taken away for private burials in cemeteries across Italy.

There are now more than 3,000 Italian soldiers in Afghanistan, mostly in the capital, Kabul, and the western area of Herat.

Some political parties have called for their withdrawal but last week Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said the troops must remain despite the high price Italy is paying.

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