By Tamsin Smith
BBC reporter in Rome
By early evening on Thursday, the road leading to St Peter's Basilica was a rainbow of peace flags.
Most people said they came to support the hostages' families
Hundreds of Italians turned out to support the families of the three hostages still held captive in Iraq.
The turnout was significantly lower than previous peace rallies held in Rome, but the message was clear.
"I wanted to come here to show I care about those three boys in Iraq," said Enrico, who travelled to Rome from the north of Italy.
"I believe it's the right thing to do... it's very important to show our support not just from Italians but also from Europe."
There was a slow handclap of sympathy as the families of the hostages arrived to lead the procession towards St Peter's square.
The men, all security guards, were abducted in Iraq on 12 April
Many onlookers pressed through the crowds to try to speak with them and pass written notes.
Others didn't know what to say, and simply shook their hands or squeezed their arms in silent support.
Whilst the kidnappers demanded Italians protest en masse against the government and against Italy's involvement in the US-led coalition in Iraq, the families of the hostages called for a humanitarian show of peace.
They implored people to leave their political banners and slogans at home and to unite under the colours of the peace flag.
It seemed this request was largely respected. Some protestors chanted anti-war slogans demanding for Italian troops to be withdrawn, but the majority marched quietly and peacefully.
'No place' for politicians
There was a minute of silent prayer and then applause in St Peter's square as the Vatican's foreign minister read a message of support from the Pope.
Michele said she came to rally for peace
"I think that the kidnappers wanted another type of demonstration," said Michele, a student.
"They wanted to see us rise up against the government and against the war... normally we would have done this but today we are only here for the families and peace," she added.
Italy's mainstream political parties had agreed not to attend the demonstration as they did not want to be seen to be bowing to the kidnappers' demands.
"The hostages families deserve respect and should demonstrate," said Marco Follini, leader of the Union of Christian Democrats, "but politicians have no place alongside them."
But some far-left and Green party politicians did attend the rally, along with pacifist and anti-globalists.
Local Muslim leaders also expressed their solidarity
Representatives from Italy's Muslim community also attended.
"Our message to the kidnappers is liberty for the three Italians who are in Iraq without their liberty," the Imam of Turin, Bouriqi Bouchia, told the BBC.
"We, Muslims, say we must work for peace and towards the liberation of these men."
Some Italians were sceptical that the demonstration would have the required effect of securing the release of the hostages.
"I don't think this is the way to solve the problems in Iraq," said Alessio, an architect.
"The government has to take concrete action to change something," he added.
Italian newspapers quote concerned analysts who think that any demonstration - whether peaceful or political - sends a message to the kidnappers that blackmail pays dividends.
They fear the group holding the Italians could now make new demands.
The peace demonstration and the message from the Vatican in support of the hostages release has been broadcast on Arab TV.
With the kidnappers deadline looming, the hostages families are hoping a simple message of peace will be enough.
I find it shocking that anyone would even suggest giving in to such a demand. The demand shows the terrorists real intentions, power and control, not just over the Middle East but over everyone everywhere. To give in would only feed that appetite. The only protest Italians should consider is an aggressive offensive against the thugs in Iraq.
Were the Italians right to listen to the kidnappers' demands and stage a protest? Send us your views.
Marching in protest of war has never had any impact on any government. They have their own agenda, in spite of what their citizens may believe. I just hope that these poor men will be freed regardless. I lived in Italy for several years and know how the majority of the population feel about this conflict: it should never have begun at all.
Fay, Devon, UK
Kurt, Baton Rouge
Just like Spain, the majority of public opinion in Italy was opposed to the Iraq invasion. This is another opportunity to save the lives of those Italians being held. The public should protest, not as a means of giving in to the captors demand, but rather to save the lives of those being held.
Amanson Anderson, Austin, TX ,US
Suppose the next set of kidnappers ask for a mass conversion to Islam. How many Italians would be willing to renounce Catholicism? To save how many lives?
Mel Tucker, Watsonville, California, USA
If people give in to requests like this, it will encourage hostage taking, especially if the media shows that the kidnappers have had success. If people know that they can get their own way by taking hostages, they'll do it all-the-more. It seems ruthless to allow these men to die, but giving in to their captors could cause more situations like this to appear, and more suffering.
Mr. Hooper, Suffolk, UK
Reverence for life, even if others have forgotten, all who remember must speak out now.
Laurie Constant, USA
I plea to the Italian government to stiffen their upper lip, kill their pride and save these innocent Italians. They are not soldiers and therefore are not prisoners of War. I pray for their release and hope strong will for their families.
Mullah Hafeezud Din, Birmingham, UK
This will not end here unfortunately. The terrorists want all western countries to bow to them. The terrorists will never be satisfied until they accomplish world domination.
Yolanda Pantoja, Chicago, IL, USA
Yes, they should protest. I just try to imagine what I would do, if my husband or son or brother would be one of their hostages. There's no doubt in my mind that I would protest. Blackmail is unacceptable, but lets not be selfish, lets be subjective: anybody would protest, if their loved one would be held hostage. All my best wishes to their families!
Aida Oros, Atlanta GA, USA
While almost all of the friends, colleagues and students I have met here in Italy have been 100 percent against Italy's involvement in the war, I can't imagine any of these wonderful, life loving, gregarious pacifists giving in to a demand such as this. They don't like being told what to do by their "colourful" political parties and government, let alone a threatening group of kidnappers in Iraq. If these people really want the sympathy of Italy, they should release the hostages now without precondition. This would be the most successful way to get both the attention and sympathy of a nation currently glued to its TV set.
Seth, Trento, Italy
How can we (the West) now label these 'Kidnappers' as 'Terrorists'. If my country or home was invaded by a foreign enemy that I did not believe in then I would probably kidnap someone as well if it meant my beliefs and rights were protected. Does this not make us all kidnappers and thus terrorists for kidnapping Iraqi Oil? It is time the West woke up!
Craig Penfold, Vancouver, Canada
Call it the walk of life and not blackmail. Any time we have a chance to save a life, we should take it
Sam Elawar, CT, USA
Perhaps the Italian public could protest in the streets against the kidnappings and murders.
Phil W, Hampshire, UK
Before anyone answers, we should all ask ourselves: What would I do if my love one was one of the hostages? I think the answer is obvious. I would do the impossible to get him/her back...ALIVE.
Nella Alamanni, New York City, USA
Yes, I believe that the Italian people should protest in order to save the lives of the hostages. First of all, the Italian populace has, from the beginning, disagreed with the war and occupation of Iraq. So the kidnappers are only asking them to do something they already believed in.
Shaina Greiff, New York, USA
The answer is simple. You can never give in to blackmail or terrorist threats. To do so once will open a floodgate of kidnappings and similar threats. Even as small a price as a protest rally cannot be accepted in these matters. Perhaps Italians should instead rally against terrorism and show support for their troops and fellow countrymen who are still in Iraq.
Brian Kreulen, Paris, France
Whilst sympathising with families, this is the worst form of blackmail imaginable. Every country and its citizens would become even more of a target. The best response of the families should be to prevail upon the authorities in Iran, Saudi and other Arab countries to intervene and demand the liberation of these unfortunate hostages.
John Ogden, Paris, France
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