[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Friday, 16 April, 2004, 09:57 GMT 10:57 UK
Japan celebrates hostage release
People read newspaper articles about the release
There was great relief in Japan after the release
Japan has been celebrating the release of three of its civilians kidnapped last week in Iraq.

The country's media showed scenes of the three as they met the Muslim cleric who helped free them.

But the fate of two other Japanese nationals who have disappeared in Iraq remains unclear, although officials are yet to confirm they have been abducted.

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said Japan would not bow to kidnapping, which she described as "inexcusable".

Right now I'm tired and I have had a lot of shocks, but I will not hate the Iraqi people
Nahoko Takato, former hostage

Up to 40 foreigners from at least a dozen countries are currently being held hostage in Iraq. On Thursday, an Italian man was confirmed to have been killed by his captors.

In addition to the three Japanese hostages who have been released, a Chinese man whose kidnapping had not been reported was freed on Friday.

There are no details available as to the man's identity. The move follows the release of seven other Chinese nationals in Iraq earlier this week.

Two 'may return'

On Thursday evening Japanese television stations jubilantly showed footage of the three released civilians, looking tired but in good health.

Back in Tokyo, there were cries of joy, hugs and tears from the hostages' families.

"When I saw them alive on TV, I felt really happy," said Ayako Inoue, the sister of female captive Nahoko Takato.

"I feel truly grateful from the bottom of my heart for many people who took action to save their lives."

The three former hostages have now left Baghdad for medical checks in Dubai. They are then due to fly to Japan, possibly as early as Saturday.

Photos and profiles of the freed Japanese hostages

But there are reports that two of the three want to return to Iraq, prompting disbelief and even anger back home.

"I will continue," said Nahoko Takato, when asked whether she planned to keep on with her aid work.

"Right now I'm tired and I have had a lot of shocks, but I will not hate the Iraqi people," she said.

Another released hostage, photojournalist Soichiro Koriyama, has also suggested he may return to the war-torn country.

According to Kyodo news agency, Mr Koriyama's mother said her son wanted to remain in Iraq to take photos, a comment which prompted a strong reaction from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

"How dare (Koriyama) say such a thing as we made round-the-clock efforts (to gain the hostages' release)," Mr Koizumi said.

Relief tempered

The BBC's correspondent in Tokyo, Jonathan Head, says it is not clear what prompted the hostages' captors to change their minds.

But their release is extremely welcome news for Mr Koizumi, whose decision to send troops to Iraq had been widely criticised, our correspondent says.

JAPANESE IN IRAQ
550 troops are in the south-eastern city of Samawah
The soldiers are tasked with rebuilding infrastructure
It is Japan's first post-war deployment to a combat zone

But the relief is tempered by Japanese media reports earlier on Thursday that two other civilians had been taken hostage.

The latest Japanese nationals to have reportedly been abducted are freelance journalist Jumpei Yasuda, 30, and Nobutaka Watanabe, 36, an anti-war activist and former member of the Japanese army.

An email received by an organisation in Tokyo said the two men were seized in Abu Gharib, to the west of Baghdad.

According to the email message, the two men were seized after travelling by taxi to photograph a US military helicopter which had crashed west of Baghdad. An armed group surrounded them and took them away.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jonathan Head
"The prime minister refused to blink and the country backed him"



RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific