Italian premier under fire in Afghan prisoner exchange

ROME // Italy’s strategy of negotiating the release of Taliban militants in exchange for an Italian hostage in Afghanistan has put Premier Romano Prodi under fire days before a crucial parliamentary vote on keeping the country’s troops in Afghanistan.The move has drawn the ire of conservative opponents – whose backing might be needed in the Senate vote next week – and the criticism of Italy’s allies in the United States and Europe. It rekindled long-standing questions over Rome’s handling of hostage situations.

A deputy foreign affairs minister said the Afghan government freed five Taliban prisoners to win the release of La Repubblica reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo, who had been captured two weeks earlier. His remarks during a Senate address Wednesday were repeated by another senior official before the lower house of parliament.

The controversy overshadowed Italy’s joy over Mastrogiacomo’s release. While criticism came mainly from conservatives, some within Prodi’s ranks also expressed unease.

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