Italy hostage shown in video plea

Kidnapped Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena has been shown begging for help and urging US-led troops to leave Iraq in a new videotape.

Ms Sgrena, who works for the Italian Il Manifesto newspaper, was seized by gunmen in Baghdad earlier this month.

Associated Press Television News says it obtained a copy of the tape.

"You must end the occupation, it's the only way we can get out of this situation. I'm counting on you," she is heard to say while sobbing.

Speaking in Italian and French she adds: "I ask the Italian government, the Italian people struggling against the occupation, I ask my husband, please, help me."

Help me, help me to demand the withdrawal of the troops, help me spare my life said Giuliana Sgrena

In an apparent reference to her husband, Ms Sgrena says: "Pierre, you help me. You have always been by my side in all my battles, I beg you, help me. Show all the pictures I have taken of the Iraqis, of the children hit by the cluster bombs, of the women. I beg you."

At one stage, she appears on the verge of crying and struggles to recite her message, AP says.

"Nobody should come to Iraq at this time," she says. "Not even journalists. Nobody."

Her husband Pierre Scolari said the footage was "good news" because it proved she was alive. Ms Sgrena's editor in chief at Il Manifesto, Gabriele Polo, said he was "relieved to see her".

A little-known militant group, Islamic Jihad Organisation, has said it kidnapped Ms Sgrena and is demanding that Italy withdraw its troops from Iraq.

A group using the same name said in September it had killed two aid workers, Simona Torretta and Simona Pari, who were later released by another group.

Senate vote

In the video obtained on Wednesday, Ms Sgrena is shown alone against a white background. In the corner of the screen the words "Mujahideen Without Borders" is shown red Arabic writing.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has said Italy is trying to secure Ms Sgrena's negotiated release.

But as the video was played repeatedly on Italian television, the Italian Senate was preparing to vote on whether to extend funding of the mission of its 3,000-strong contingent in Iraq.

The lower chamber has already approved the funding.

Ms Sgrena is the eighth Italian to be taken hostage, including Ms Pari and Ms Torretta.

An Italian journalist and Red Cross aid worker, Enzo Baldoni, was kidnapped last August and killed by a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq.

Four Italians were taken hostage in Iraq in April. One of them, civilian security guard Fabrizio Quattrocchi, was later shot dead by his captors, while three were released.