Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Margherita Boniver will visit five countries during her trip and meet both political and humanitarian representatives - especially from women's groups. 

"The main purpose of the trip is to obtain from these people understanding and solidarity concerning the two kidnapped women and I hope this will have an impact in the local media," Boniver told reporters on Thursday before leaving for her first destination - Egypt. 

Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, who worked in Iraq for the Italian non-governmental organisation (NGO) Bridge to Baghdad, were abducted by armed men on Tuesday in central Baghdad. 

The kidnapping has sent shockwaves through Italy, and government and opposition parties have laid aside their normal animosity to launch a joint appeal for the release of the two women, who are both aged 29. 

On Thursday, Iraqi children who the aid workers had been helping, along with their parents, demonstrated in Baghdad to demand their release.

At least five Italians have been kidnapped in Iraq since April and two of them were killed by their captors after Rome refused to bow to demands to withdraw Italian troops sent to Iraq last year following the fall of Baghdad. 

'Friends and acquaintances'

Boniver will meet the wife of Egyptian President Husni Mubarak during her stay in Cairo and then fly to Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen and Syria. 

Iraqi families have demanded the
release of the NGO workers

 

"I have been asked by the (Italian) government to go to these countries where we have many friends and acquaintances amongst the prominent women there," Boniver said. 

Besides Pari and Torretta, the armed gang also seized two Iraqis working for Italian NGOs in Baghdad. No one has yet issued any ransom demands in connection with the abduction. 

However, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini made clear on Thursday that the government would not change its stance towards Iraq, regardless of the kidnappings. 

"In the case of new blackmail demands it is clear that the government will not change direction," Frattini said in an interview published in the weekly news magazine, Panorama. 

"There will be no change to our foreign policy," he added.