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HOSTAGES

Iraqi group threatens to kill Italians

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- A group holding three Italians hostage in Iraq has threatened to kill them in five days unless Italians take to the streets to publicly denounce their country's involvement in the US-led occupation.

Al-Arabiya television aired a tape yesterday showing the men, together with images of a statement dated April 25.

Relatives of the men confirmed their identities. They had been shown on a tape aired April 13, when kidnappers demanded the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq. A fourth Italian held with them, Fabrizio Quattrocchi, was killed the next day.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his government have been staunch allies of Washington in the US-led Iraq war.

The kidnappings have added to pressure from some opposition groups for an immediate withdrawal of the almost 3,000 troops that Italy has sent to support the US occupation force.

A statement from Berlusconi's office said the Italian government was doing all it could to secure the release of the hostages and the return of Quattrocchi's coffin.

The hostages, captured outside Baghdad, were all working for a private US security firm.

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