Thousands of Italians marched silently through Rome in a candlelit procession on Friday to demand the release of two female aid workers seized in Baghdad. Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawar promised Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that he would do everything possible to secure the release of the two women and said "barbaric" attacks on foreigners ran counter to Iraqi values. Vigils were staged across Italy during the day, underscoring the widespread indignation provoked by the abduction of the two charity staffers who were in Baghdad to help school children. Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, both aged 29, were kidnapped at gunpoint on Tuesday along with two Iraqis in a brazen, daylight attack in the center of Baghdad. A previously unknown militant group posted a statement on Friday claiming responsibility for the abduction and gave Italy 24 hours to bring about the release of all Muslim women held in Iraqi prisons if it wanted more news about the hostages, informs reuters. According to the Australian, the march came as the Italian Government said it was prepared to lobby for the release of any prisoners being held unfairly in Iraq - an apparent bid to meet a purported ultimatum set by the kidnappers. Children and adults marched in silence under rainbow-coloured banners and slogans calling for peace in Iraq. Organisers said 80,000 people had turned out in support of the hostages, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, whose capture came less than a month after Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni was seized and executed by militants in Iraq. A statement in the name of the Ansar al-Zawahiri militant group earlier gave Rome 24 hours to promise to release Muslim women prisoners in Iraq in return for details about the two Italian volunteers. Simona Torretta and Simona Pari were kidnapped on Tuesday when armed militants stormed their Baghdad office. At least seven Italians have been abducted in Iraq since April, two of whom were killed by their captors. But the identity of their kidnappers remained unclear. Interim Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawer president expressed doubts Friday over a claim of responsibility for kidnapping, the government said. However, Premier Silvio Berlusconi's office responded to the demands of the militant group, which asked Italy to pledge to release all Muslim women held in Iraqi prisons. The Italian government, without confirming the veracity of the militants' statement, said it would keep working for the liberation of any unjustly jailed people. Later, thousands of people held candles for a silent march from Piazza Venezia to Piazza Vittorio in central Rome. Many waved the rainbow flags that are a symbol of peace here and were also a sign of opposition to the war in Iraq, reports the Boston. Read earlier news stories by PRAVDA.Ru
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