Rome march for missing Italian, French reporters

18th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

ROME, Feb 19 (AFP) - Up to half a million peace demonstrators marched through the centre of Rome on Saturday to demand the release of Italian journalist Giulian Sgrena, held hostage in Iraq since February 4, city authorities said.

ROME, Feb 19 (AFP) - Up to half a million peace demonstrators marched through the centre of Rome on Saturday to demand the release of Italian journalist Giulian Sgrena, held hostage in Iraq since February 4, city authorities said.

"My offices have told me that up to 500,000 people are participating in the march," Rome's left-wing mayor Walter Veltroni told AFP as the colourful throng snaked through the Italian capital.

"The population has come out to demand Giuliana's release. And we are going to go on demanding it," Veltroni said.

Italian media said earlier some 200,000 people were expected to join the march, which got under way at Rome's Piazza della Repubblica shortly after 2:00 pm (1300 GMT) and took three hours to wind its way the six kilometres (four miles) across the city to a rally at the ancient Circus Maximus.

Another famous landmark, the Colosseum, was lit up at dusk in a symbolic backing for the city's demand for Sgrena's release.

The journalist's elderly parents, her companion Pier Scolari and staff from her newspaper, the communist daily Il Manifesto, led the march, which came a few days after a tearful Sgrena pleaded with Italy's government to save her life by withdrawing its troops from Iraq in a video-tape released by her kidnappers.

"There are more than we had hoped," said 74-year-old Valentino Parlato, a founder member of the newspaper.

Ex-hostage Simona Torretta paid tribute to Sgrena's journalism, telling the rally: "Giuliana's is the voice of all of us."

"Her gaze has always been firmly fixed on the poor and she has always given a voice to those who were against the war," said Torretta, one of two Italian aid workers kidnapped in Iraq last September and held by insurgents for three weeks before their release amid rumours that a ransom had been paid to their abductors.

"Let us free Florence, Hussein and all those hostages and continue to call for freedom for the Iraqi people," she added, referring to the French journalist Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi driver Hussein Hanun al-Saadi, who went missing in Iraq a month before Sgrena.

Marchers, including many families, waved rainbow-coloured peace flags and posters of the three. Some carried banners representing Italy's 20 regions after travelling by train and bus from across the country.

Il Manifesto devoted its front page to a life-sized portrait of its 56-year-old correspondent, over the headline "Together".

Opposition leaders were prominent in the demonstration, as much an anti-war rally as a demand for Sgrena's release.

However, the parties in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's governing coalition - which has backed the US-led invasion of Iraq and deployed 3,000 troops there - have kept a low profile, and were taking no official part in the march after lawmakers voted during the week to maintain the troops in Iraq.

Reform Minister Roberto Calderoli dismissed Saturday's demonstration. "I believe it's useless, even risky, for the life of the kidnapped journalist," he said.

"Those who aren't going on the street don't understand the common feeling," said Fausto Bertinotti, leader of the Refoundation Communist party, in a shot across the government's bows.

Romano Prodi, who will challenge Berlusconi for Italy's leadership in a general election next year, said it was "my duty" to march in Rome.

"It's all we can do, nothing more. All of us have seen how distressed and defenceless she was on TV, like a little bird".

The journalist's plight was also to be remembered on stage at Rome's Teatro Valle on Saturday evening. Actress Ottavia Piccolo said she would dedicate her performance in the play "The Land of Milk and Honey" to her abducted friend.

"It will be dedicated to my friend Giuliana, a courageous and passionate woman. The applause will all be for her."

© AFP

Subject: French News

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