Enthusiasm and relief in Italy greeted the release of La Repubblica journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, released by his Afghan kidnappers after holding him hostage for two weeks. Italian authorities said Mastrogiacomo is in good health and is expected to return home on Tuesday. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

Italy was overjoyed at the news of the release of Daniele Mastrogiacomo, the 52-year-old reporter of Italian daily La Repubblica, kidnapped in southern Afghanistan March 5. Mastrogiacomo was immediately taken to a hospital in Lashkar Gah where the aid group Emergency, which helped negotiate his freedom, is based.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi expressed relief and happiness at the release of the journalist. He said it had not been simple to obtain his freedom.

"I am beginning to relax," said Prodi. "These were truly dramatic days and I cannot hide that today I can breathe, with serenity and happiness, because we had some bad moments."

The prime minister said Mastrogiacomo's release was obtained through the collective effort of Italian authorities, humanitarian officials and the Afghan government.

Taleban rebels kidnapped the Italian journalist in southern Helmand province, along with his Afghan driver and interpreter. They accused Mastrogiacomo of spying for British forces.

The Afghan driver was killed last week. The interpreter is believed to have been freed along with the journalist but no details were immediately available.

Italian authorities were involved in intense negotiations to obtain the freedom of Mastrogiacomo. The Taleban's military commander, Mullah Dadullah, said the journalist was freed after Afghan authorities released five senior Taleban officials, including his own brother. No information was available on whether a ransom was also paid.

After his release, Mastrogiacomo spoke by telephone to his family and colleagues. He described his captivity saying that his hands and feet were kept chained at all times. He said he feared he would be killed.

He also said that during the day he was made to walk for miles in the desert and that he slept in 15 different prisons that were as tiny as sheep pens.

Speaking by telephone he said: "I felt I had not been abandoned and that there was hope that I would stay alive. This gave me courage especially at night that was a time of great desperation."

Mastrogiacomo thanked everyone in Italy for their support.