France marks anniversary of reporters' Afghan abduction
The faces of two French reporters kidnapped a year ago in Afghanistan were projected Wednesday onto the Arc de Triomphe as the government faced mounting pressure to secure their release.
"Free Stephane and Herve and their three colleagues," read the slogan on the Paris landmark beneath the faces of cameraman Stephane Taponier and reporter Herve Ghesquiere.
The journalists, who work for France 3 public television, were seized along with three Afghan colleagues, named as Mohamed Reza, Ghulam and Satar, a year ago in an area northeast of Kabul rife with anti-government insurgents.
Their pictures were printed Wednesday on the front pages of French national newspapers and their plight was the lead story in many television and radio news broadcasts here.
Giant photos of the two reporters were also hung on the facade of the Paris city hall building, and Paris and other French cities were due to host gatherings to mark the anniversary of their abduction.
A hundred balloons were released in the suburb of the northern city Lille where Ghesquiere was born to symbolise the town's solidarity with the hostages.
Afghan criminal groups and Islamist rebels have kidnapped several dozen foreigners, many of them journalists, since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime in Kabul, sparking the current insurgency.
The eye-catching stunt at the Arc de Triomphe was organised by Paris-based media rights campaigners Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
"By projecting their faces on to the Arc de Triomphe, we want to remind the French authorities that the promises of a forthcoming release are not enough," it said.
"President Nicolas Sarkozy must make their fate a national priority."
The parents of one of the hostages on Tuesday spoke to the media for the first time since their son was kidnapped and expressed frustration at the lack of progress in freeing him.
The couple said they were tired of hearing upbeat statements from French government ministers that failed to come to anything.
"When (Foreign Minister) Michele Alliot-Marie speaks of a 'short time', we say to ourselves it's imminent. And then Christmas is already gone... We are still hoping for good news, but it gets you down," said Gerard Taponier.
Last week France 3 television revealed that a new video the kidnappers made in mid-November of their hostages had been released to French authorities.
The parents of Taponier were shown the film on Tuesday at the foreign ministry and said afterwards the two hostages appealed in the video to their government for help and that they looked thin but were in good shape.
The video has not been released publicly.
The couple said they were encouraged by a visit to Afghanistan this month by Defence Minister Alain Juppe during which Afghan President Hamid Karzai promised his full support in efforts to free the hostages.
Foreign Minister Alliot-Marie on Wednesday issued a statement which repeated the message that securing the release of the journalists was an "absolute priority" for the French government.
© 2010 AFP