French jubilant at hostages release

22nd December 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 21 (AFP) - In an outpouring of national jubilation, all of France agreed Tuesday with the mother of released French captive Georges Malbrunot that this was "the most beautiful Christmas present ever."

PARIS, Dec 21 (AFP) - In an outpouring of national jubilation, all of France agreed Tuesday with the mother of released French captive Georges Malbrunot that this was "the most beautiful Christmas present ever."

President Jacques Chirac sent word from Morocco that he was overjoyed by the release of the journalists Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot after four months of captivity in Iraq. He said he would immediately break off his vacation to return to Paris.

The lower house of parliament burst into applause when the news of the release was announced, and the session was briefly suspended. Dozens of politicians rushed to express their congratulations.

Illustrating the national importance that France has attached to the subject, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin announced that Foreign Minister Michel Barnier would fly to the region to accompany the former hostages home.

Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based press freedom group, said it would on Wednesday symbolically take down the two giant portraits of the two reporters that have hung outside the Paris city hall since the men were captured on August 20.

"It's fantastic, we're crazy with happiness," said the organisation's secretary general, Robert Menard.

He paid homage to "the formidable work of the diplomats" in working for the release, but said he hoped the flat-out campaign on behalf of the journalists by Reporters Without Borders had also played a significant role.

Menard said he had answered "dozens and dozens" of congratulatory calls from other journalists.

In Strasbourg, the Council of Europe joined the sense of joy and relief that the two men would be coming home on Wednesday.

"I wish to transmit to them and to their families our joy and to pay tribute to their courage. I very much hope that their liberation will soon be followed by others," said the president of the council's parliamentary assembly, Peter Schieder.

A score of foreigners still are missing or captive in Iraq.

In London, Britain's minister for Europe, Denis MacShane, a former president of the National Union of Journalists, praised the "courage and devotion to their profession" showed by the two journalists was "an example to all."

The president of the European Parliament Josep Borrell said the entire assembly shared the joy of the former hostages and their families, and praised the efforts of the French government to achieve their liberation.

He added, "our relief today does not permit us to forget the other people still held hostages. The practice of kidnapping and blackmail is odious, and nothing justifies such acts."

Nowhere was the rejoicing greater than at the daily Le Figaro and national radio network Radio France, where the reporters worked.

Radio France expressed gratitude to all those who had worked so the journalists would walk free, including Reporters Without Borders and "innumerable" listeners who had called in with messages of support.

France Info, the 24-hour radio news station for which Chesnot reported, said it could imagine the happiness of the two men and their families over the release just before Christmas "and wished to share the happiness" with them.

Nicolas Beytout, the editor of Malbrunot's newspaper Le Figaro, said he had learned of the release "with huge joy. We were getting ready to celebrate Christmas without them."

Andree Malbrunot, Malbrunot's mother, said she had hardly dared believe the news at first.

"We have had so many dashed hopes, we could scarcely believe it," she said, but added, "I've always thought he would be home for Christmas. My husband didn't, he was pessimistic throughout and recently underwent surgery. He was miserable, but now he will be all right.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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