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Italy offers U.S. bases, airspace

Deputies opposed to war made their feelings clear.
Deputies opposed to war made their feelings clear.

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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Both houses of Italy's parliament have approved letting U.S.-led forces use Italian airspace and military bases in a conflict with Iraq. The authorization does not include letting the coalition use Italy as a departure point for direct attacks.

The senate passed the measure Wednesday night 159-124, with one abstention. Earlier, the lower house voted to approve authorization 304-246, with two abstentions.

In a noisy, heated session of parliament, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi asked lawmakers to approve the measures.

Berlusconi, who emphasized that Italy would not be used to launch an attack on Iraq, has said Italian forces will not participate in the conflict.

Even though France and Germany are against a war, Berlusconi said, both nations have authorized the use of airspace or military bases should the need arise.

We are acting the same way as "European democracies have done or will do, even those democracies that have contrasted the Security Council, even announcing a contrary vote or, worse, a veto," he said.

Berlusconi was met with several interruptions and jeers from opposing ministers during his speech. Approval was not in doubt, though, as Berlusconi's governing coalition has a comfortable majority in parliament.

The prime minister said he was a strong supporter of the U.S.-led confrontation against Iraq because of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's military use of chemical weapons.

Berlusconi was frequently interrupted during his speech.

"Saddam Hussein is not the only autocrat in the world to possess arms of mass destruction of a chemical, bacteriological or a radioactive type," Berlusconi said.

"He's not the only one to have worked actively on a nuclear program.

"But he is the only one to have used those weapons on a large scale over a long history of aggression, military aggression, attacking his neighbors and his own people."

In an address, aired on Italian TV, he said: "The Iraqi regime has repeatedly violated over the last 10 years the disarmament orders given to him by the United Nations.

"It seems clear to me that there has been a continuous effort made to reach a peaceful resolution. It is evident also that not to fix any final date would have been the same a guaranteeing to Iraq many further years to continue violating the 16 resolutions which have been place from 1997 until today."

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