Romanian reporters call for release of hostages in Iraq

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Romanian reporters gathered in the Bucharest city centre to call for the release of three Romanian journalists abducted in Iraq

Romanian reporters gathered in central Bucharest Saturday calling for the release of three colleagues kidnapped by Iraqi militants late last month. One of the abducted journalists was from Prima TV, and two were from the newspaper România Liberă. In a tape released Friday by the kidnappers, they said if the Romanian government does not pull all its troops out of Iraq, the journalists will be killed. With 860 troops in Iraq, Romania currently has one of the largest coalition contingents there.

The reporters stopped short of calling for the removal of troops from Iraq, but said they would continue protesting until the journalists are released. Prima TV's Cristina Topescu said, "We will stay here until they are released. I am trying to be optimistic, but I am scared because of those images. However, I keep hoping."

Romanian President Traian Băsescu said after the release of the tape that he would do everything possible to save the lives of the journalists, even though he has been criticised by many Romanians for not doing enough. Earlier in the year, Băsescu said that he would like to send more troops to Iraq, potentially making Romania the fourth-largest partner in the Coalition.

Opinion polls conducted in Romania show that only 45% of the population support the maintenance of troops in Iraq. Several political parties have also called for the removal of the troops, particularly the social liberal Humanist Party and the right-wing Popular Great Romania Party.

Representatives of Romania's small Arab community also campaigned for the release of the journalists, holding banners showing pictures of the three with the word "Freedom" written in Romanian, English and Arabic. Samir Zanun, the leader of the Jordanian community in Romania, said "We are asking for their unconditional release and safe return home."

Reporters without Borders also condemned the kidnapping, saying "By demanding the withdrawal of Romania's troops from Iraq, kidnappers are once again putting journalists at the centre of an unbearable act of blackmail."