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Last Updated: Monday, 30 August, 2004, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Press outraged by French hostage threat

Monday's French press reflects national feelings of shock and defiance as the country rallies behind the two French journalists facing a death threat from the Islamist group holding them captive in Iraq.

"Monstrous!" is the stark caption to the editorial in the heavyweight Le Figaro.

Another leading daily, Le Monde, says "France rocked by journalist crisis", while Le Parisien speaks of "Outrageous blackmail".

L'Humanite says the two journalists are "hostages of hatred", while Liberation speaks of a "wall of rejection" in the face of the threat.

France stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the hostages
La Croix

All papers report President Chirac's rallying call on national TV last night after top-level crisis meetings to discuss the way forward, and the latest developments are the top news story on national radio and TV bulletins.

President Chirac has also postponed his trip to Russia for talks with the Russian and German leaders, in order to address the crisis.

"France mobilises for its hostages in Iraq", is the headline in Le Nouvel Observateur, while La Croix says "The whole of France stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the hostages".

'Cruel ordeal'

One of the two journalists, Georges Malbrunot, writes for Le Figaro, which points out that the war in Iraq was "sought by the president of the United States, but condemned by the president of the French Republic".

The paper expresses "outrage" at what it calls the act of "fanatics who claim to speak for an oppressed Islam, but who use the very methods of the oppressors".

Given its position as the leading opponent to the US-led war on Iraq, the paper says, "France could have hoped to be spared this cruel ordeal".

Noting that the Islamist group is demanding the repeal of a law banning overt religious symbols - including the Islamic headscarf - in state schools, the paper says this is the first time that terrorists had taken issue with France over a matter of domestic - rather than foreign - policy.

"This affair has therefore become a matter of national importance," the paper says. "France must make its voice heard, and Le Figaro will be at its side."

'Blackmail'

Many papers carry a timeline documenting the frantic round of political consultations on Sunday to try to resolve the crisis, noting that the ultimatum issued by the journalists' captors expires on Monday night.

All papers note Sunday's universal condemnation by the leaders of several Muslim organisations in France, who said the taking of hostages ran counter to Islamic values and teachings.

Their unanimous rejection of the hostage-takers' demands, said France Soir, is a "mobilisation against blackmail".

The other missing journalist, Christian Chesnot, a radio reporter, also writes for the Swiss Tribune de Geneve, which calls the kidnapping an act of "abject blackmail".

"How can people be so blind," the paper wonders, "as to believe that such outrageous methods can further the spirit of tolerance invoked by those who deplored the French law" banning religious symbols from state schools.

France's attitude in the Iraq conflict should give it powerful leverage in Baghdad
Tribune de Geneve

However the paper finds "grounds for hope" in what it calls "the remarkable and unambiguous unanimity with which the Muslim community", both in the Middle East and Europe, "has spoken out for the release of our colleagues".

"In addition and most importantly," it stresses, "France's attitude in the Iraq conflict should give it powerful leverage in Baghdad."

Also in Geneva, Le Temps finds it "reassuring" that the Muslims of France, despite what the paper calls their "hostility" to the headscarf law, "have promptly rallied in support of the widespread condemnation" of the kidnapping.

Their reaction, it argues, "represents a potential protection" for the two reporters.

On the other hand, it warns, "the Islamist terrorists prowling the streets of Iraq and the Middle East are not necessarily amenable to the kind of reasoning used in democratic countries".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




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