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Italian hospital's head arrested in Afghanistan

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Security forces arrested an Afghan hospital head on Tuesday after hundreds of people protested to demand information about the executed driver of kidnapped Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo.

La Repubblica newspaper reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo (L) speaks on a telephone after his release, while accompanied by Emergency aid agency doctor Gino Strada in Kandahar, Afghanistan March 19, 2007. Hundreds of family and friends of Mastrogiacomo's executed driver blockaded his hospital on Tuesday, demanding to know what happened to the dead man. REUTERS/PeaceReporter/Handout

Rahamatullah Hanafi was arrested outside the Italian charity hospital in the southern town of Lashkar Gah, where the journalist was housed for the night after his release by the Taliban who had kidnapped him two weeks ago.

Reasons for his arrest were not immediately known.

But it came hours after hundreds of family and friends of the executed driver, Syed Agha, blockaded the emergency hospital, demanding to know what happened to the dead man.

They chanted “Death to Rahamatullah!”, and said they would not let Mastrogiacomo be driven away for a flight to Kabul until he met them to say what had happened to his driver.

Mastrogiacomo spent the night in the hospital after being freed by the Taliban following almost two weeks in captivity, accused of spying and threatened with execution himself.

Agha’s throat was slit on Thursday after a Taliban court convicted him of spying, rebel officials said.

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His body had not been recovered.

Mastrogiacomo, a Pakistani-born La Repubblica newspaper reporter, was due in Kabul on Tuesday, according to Italian ambassador Ettore Francesco Sequi.

“(He is in) very good health,” Sequi told reporters late on Monday night. “He’s in very good physical condition.”

The Taliban say he was freed after the Afghan government handed over four of five insurgent leaders, including the brother of military commander Mullah Dadullah.

Another Italian journalist, Gabriele Torsello, was kidnapped in Helmand in October and held for three weeks before being released unharmed.

Helmand, the country’s opium centre, and neighbouring Kandahar province, are considered the most dangerous places in Afghanistan.

“My head is still spinning but I am happy. I managed to get out of the situation and I thank everybody who helped me,” the freed Italian journalist told a TV channel owned by La Repubblica soon after his release on Monday.

“This is the most wonderful moment of my life.”

The journalist said he had been “bound hand and foot” by his captors and moved to 15 different locations “as small as sheep pens, in the middle of the desert”.

He did not explain why he was travelling in an area regarded as unsafe for foreigners. Sequi refused to say if a ransom had been paid.

NATO this month launched a major offensive in Helmand to take on the Taliban, as well as druglords.