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HOSTAGE'S GRIEF; 'The hardest moment was seeing the man who had just saved me die in my arms.

Byline: ROY BAYLISS

RESCUED Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena has spoken of her agony over the death of the secret agent who saved her life.

Nicola Calipari was killed in a 'friendly fire' blunder by US troops after playing a key role in freeing the kidnapped journalist in Iraq.

Ms Sgrena, who was wounded in the fiasco, said: 'The hardest moment was when I saw the person who had just saved me die in my arms.'

Calipari was mistakenly shot dead by US troops at a checkpoint as Ms Sgrena was being whisked to freedom after being held hostage for a month. He threw himself across her body asthe bullets flew in a brave attempt to save her life.

Soldiers said that they fired at the car's engine block after the driver ignored warnings to stop - but one report said that the Italians' car was riddled with 400 bullets.

Italy and the United States - staunch allies in the Iraq war - are facing their worst falling out in years because of the tragedy, which will also fuel anti-war activists in Italy and put pressure on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Mr Berlusconi, who defied widespread public opposition to the Iraq war and sent 3,000 troops, took the rare step of summoning US ambassadorMel Sembler to his office. He demanded that the United States 'leave no stone unturned' in investigating the incident. US President George W. Bush was quick to call Berlusconi and promise a full investigation.

The shooting was the worst diplomatic incident between Italy and America since 1998, when a US Marines jet flying recklessly low and fast cut a skilift cable, killing 20 people.

Ms Sgrena returned to Rome yesterday, and Calipari's coffin will follow.

More than 20 Italians have been killed in Iraq and commentators said the opposition would use the latest tragedy in their campaign for regional elections next month, seen as a test of strength for Berlusconi

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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Mar 6, 2005
Words:333
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