Iraqi president delays trip to Franceover hostage crisis

3rd September 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 3 (AFP) - Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawar has postponed a visit to France scheduled for next week due to the ongoing hostage drama in Iraq involving two French journalists, the French foreign ministry confirmed Friday.

PARIS, Sept 3 (AFP) - Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawar has postponed a visit to France scheduled for next week due to the ongoing hostage drama in Iraq involving two French journalists, the French foreign ministry confirmed Friday.  

"Given the current circumstances linked to the situation of our countrymen, the Iraqi president's visit will not take place on the scheduled dates," the foreign ministry announced.  

Arab diplomats in the French capital had earlier told AFP that Yawar would not start a European tour in Paris on Sunday as originally planned, but that he "will be in Berlin as scheduled on September 8."  

Both French and Arab diplomats said the decision was reached jointly by authorities in Paris and Baghdad.  

The Iraqi president had been scheduled to arrive in Paris on Sunday at the invitation of French President Jacques Chirac.  

"The conditions are not very favorable for such a visit," French diplomats said.   France was to be the first stop on a trip that is scheduled to include stops in Germany, Italy, Poland and Belgium.  

Yawar is to meet with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Thursday. He will also hold talks in Rome with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and in Brussels with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.  

France and Germany staunchly opposed the US-led war in Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, while Italy and Poland have contributed troops to the US-led coalition still in the country.  

Two French journalists have been held hostage in Iraq for two weeks by Islamic militants who demanded that Paris rescind a ban on the wearing of headscarves and other "conspicuous" religious insignia in state schools.  

But Paris refused to bow to the kidnappers' demands and the law went into effect on Thursday with the start of the academic year.  

Hope was growing on Friday that the two journalists, Radio France correspondent Christian Chesnot and Le Figaro reporter Georges Malbrunot, could soon be released.  

"They are out of danger as was declared yesterday by Sheikh Hareth al-Dhari, their release could just be a matter of time," said Sheikh Abdel Salam al-Kubeisi, an influential cleric on the Committee of Muslim Scholars.  

Kubeisi's organisation, also known as the Council of the Ulema, has privileged contacts with the extremist Sunni groups operating in Iraq.   But tensions were mounting between Paris and the new government in Baghdad after a newspaper controlled by Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi blamed Chirac's refusal to help in Iraq for the kidnapping of the two journalists.  

In an editorial headlined "Chirac you did not hear our pleas", the Baghdad newspaper said: "Chirac, who wants to present himself as fair, must take his share of responsibility in the kidnapping of his two compatriots as he opposed all international resolutions aimed at restoring Iraqis' security."  

The newspaper is the mouthpiece of Allawi's party, the Iraqi National Accord.  

When asked to comment on the newspaper's editorial, French foreign ministry spokeswoman Cecile Pozzo di Borgo said the government "does not comment on press reports".  

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier has been shuttling between Middle Eastern capitals this week to help secure the release of the two men.  

Paris dispatched a top diplomat to Baghdad, and a delegation of French Muslims visited the Iraqi capital on Thursday to appeal for the men's release, but Barnier himself did not travel to Baghdad.

 

© AFP

 

Subject: French news

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