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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 October, 2004, 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK
Chirac unity call in hostage row
Christian Chesnot and George Malbrunot
The French journalists were captured on their way to Najaf
The French President has called for national unity for the sake of two French hostages in Iraq, as a row broke out over a failed attempt to free them.

Jacques Chirac called the hostages' security and release "our only goal".

An MP from Mr Chirac's party flew to Damascus last week to try to negotiate the release of journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot.

But Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin criticised the attempt, which he said had "no official mandate".

"The government did not approve of it. The government does not approve of it," Mr Raffarin said.

In this ordeal, the strength of our action rests on the cohesion of the whole nation
Jacques Chirac
The MP who went to Syria, Didier Julia, claimed last week that he and a French former commando, Philippe Brett, were in touch with the hostage-takers and on the verge of securing the reporters' release.

He later said a convoy carrying the French hostages had been bombed by the US - a charge denied by the Americans.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says nobody in France knows the truth of any of these claims, but they are asking if the disastrous mission was approved by the government.

Videotape

Mr Raffarin says the intervention may have endangered the hostages' lives.

Some have speculated that the mission may have been an officially-backed attempt to pay a ransom, our correspondent says.

As tensions surfaced more than six weeks after the hostages were seized, Mr Chirac appealed for the country to pull together.

"In this ordeal, the strength of our action rests on the cohesion of the whole nation," he said.

Meanwhile Mr Raffarin's office said the French authorities had received a videotape on 22 September, which showed the men alive.

An MP from Mr Chirac's party, Bernard Accoyer, said they were "apparently in good health".


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