Thousands of Romanians rally for release of kidnapped journalists

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Thousands of peaceful ralliers gathered today in central Bucharest to call for the release of the three Romanian journalists

Thousands of Romanians participated in rallies on Monday to campaign for the release of three Romanian journalists kidnapped last month in Iraq. Crowds swelled in size after a weekend of smaller rallies sponsored by Romanian media workers and the Arab community in Romania.

Rallies were also held in the Transylvanian city of Cluj-Napoca

Rallies were held all over the country, with the largest in Bucharest, capital of Romania, and eight other cities. Rallying continues today with intensity in view of the deadline set by the journalists' captors demanding a Romanian pull out of its troops in Iraq. If the government does not pull out the troops, the captors threaten to kill the three — Marie-Jeanne Ion (32), Sorin Dumitru Miscoci (30) and Ovidiu Ohanesian (37).

The mother of Marie-Jeanne Ion, Magdalena Ion, made a public speech where she expressed hope that her daughter, and her daughter's colleagues, will be saved. She said, "The authorities have tried to reassure us but we are very anxious because the deadline is so short. But I'm sure it will be all right in the end."

Romania's Prime Minister Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu, said his government is making all efforts for the journalists' release, and they would not yield to terrorist demands, since this would enforce the fact that terrorism works.

Counter groups are calling for Romania to withdraw its troops. The right-wing Popular Great Romania Party (PPCD) and the social-liberal Romanian Humanist Party (PUR) have both pressured the government to withdraw.

Romanian opposition leader, and head of the Social Democratic Party, Mircea Geoană, called for a withdrawal of troops, but said that the country should not succumb to political blackmail

The Social Democratic Party (PSD), the largest party in opposition, said that troops should be withdrawn, but not under terrorist pressure. The PSD has mostly kept quiet during the kidnapping crisis because it was in power during 2000-2004 and was, therefore, the party who sent the troops to Iraq in the first place. However, party president Mircea Geoană, told a news conference that, "We must find a correct balance to establish a calendar without giving the impression that we have yielded to political blackmail."

A pullout of Romania's troops is supported by over 70% of the population, according to a poll taken at the weekend. However, the governing Truth and Justice alliance is keen to let troops remain in Iraq for peacekeeping efforts, until the country's situation stabilises.

A withdrawal by Romania would deal a blow to the US-led Coalition of the Willing. Romania's is one of the largest contingents of any European country in Iraq due to the recent withdrawals or downscaling of Spain, Italy, the Ukraine and Poland. Romania has so far been one of the only NATO countries not announcing a withdrawal. President Traian Băsescu was planning in March to send more troops.