ROME, April 26 -- Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi fended off opposition attacks Tuesday over reports that the U.S. military had absolved its soldiers of any blame in killing an Italian intelligence agent who had just rescued a hostage in Iraq.
The fresh uproar over Italy's unpopular involvement in Iraq came a day before Berlusconi's newly formed government faced a confidence vote in Parliament that analysts said it was likely to win. Berlusconi rejected opposition calls for early elections and said he would lead his government through the rest of Parliament's term until elections in May 2006.
Journalist Giuliana Sgrena, with companion Pier Scolari after a news conference in Rome, was among those who expressed outrage over reports that the U.S. military had cleared its soldiers in the killing of an Italian agent in Iraq. The agent had just freed Sgrena from abductors.
(Alessandra Tarantino -- AP)
After reports that U.S. soldiers would not be blamed in the friendly-fire shooting of Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari, Berlusconi apologized for what he called "an unfortunate leak" suggesting the investigation was completed.
On Monday, a senior U.S. defense official in Washington said U.S. soldiers guarding the checkpoint near Baghdad's airport generally followed instructions for handling potential threats when they fired at a car in which Calipari was riding March 4.
Calipari, hailed at home as a hero, had helped gain the release of an Italian hostage in Baghdad and was accompanying her to the airport when he died trying to shield the hostage from U.S. gunfire at a temporary checkpoint. The hostage, journalist Giuliana Sgrena, and another agent in their car survived, and their testimony on the shooting sharply conflicted with official U.S. accounts.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld acknowledged at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday that Italy had not signed off on the report's conclusions. He provided no details.
In a separate development, Italian prosecutors asked a judge Tuesday to charge Berlusconi and 12 other people with tax fraud and embezzlement stemming from a deal by his broadcast company to purchase television rights for U.S. movies, a prosecutor said. Berlusconi has denied the allegations.