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ITALY, Germany offer troops for war on terrorism; France may send more soldiers

ROME (AP) _ In a show of solidarity with the U.S.-led war on terrorism, Italy and Germany pledged troops Wednesday. France was considering increasing its contingent.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Cabinet approved sending up to 3,900 troops, a bold step for a nation that has avoided foreign military engagements after World War II.

In Italy, lawmakers in both houses put aside their chronic bickering and overwhelmingly approved the deployment of 2,700 troops in a rare show of bipartisanship.

One opposition deputy in the lower house wore a burka _ a head-to-toe Afghan veil _ in a show of solidarity with women in Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, who are forced to wear the garment.

In both houses, speaker after speaker stressed the importance of fighting terrorism.

``We can't be a country which lives under threats and fear,'' said Sen. Gavio Angius, an opposition leader. Former President Francesco Cossiga, a senator, called terrorism the ``Nazism of the 21st century'' and said the world must ``contain, confront and defeat'' it.

Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino said the contingent will include naval, air and ground forces. The naval group will consist of an aircraft carrier with eight fighter jets, two frigates, and a supply vessel which would be deployed in the Persian Gulf.

Up to 1,000 ground troops could be deployed in Afghanistan, but later in the campaign. Martino said they would be used ``in a subsequent phase as part of military escort and humanitarian aid.''

In Germany, Schroeder said there were no immediate plans to send German ground troops to Afghanistan or to participate in airstrikes.

Instead, Germany would offer armored vehicles equipped to detect nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; about 100 special forces; a medical evacuation unit; air transport and naval forces to protect shipping lanes.

Despite some uneasiness in Schroeder's coalition over what would be Germany's biggest military deployment since World War II, party leaders said they were confident of parliamentary approval.

In other coalition developments:

_ French President Jacques Chirac said France is considering a U.S. request for additional military assistance. He revealed the request Tuesday during his second visit to the United States since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

About 2,000 French military personnel are involved in the effort so far, counting naval, air force, and intelligence.

_ Tajikistan's president said Wednesday that the United States could have its pick of three airfields for use in the campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.

_ A group of 111 lawmakers asked Turkey's Constitutional Court to void parliament's authorization for Turkish troops to take part in the campaign. Turkey has offered to send 90 special operations soldiers.
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