France is scrambling to secure the release of two French journalists kidnapped in Iraq by militants who have given Paris until Monday evening to drop its ban on Muslim headscarves in schools.
As thousands took to the streets in France to demonstrate, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier visited Egypt as part of a mission to rally support in Iraq and the region. He made an impassioned plea to the Islamic Army in Iraq to free Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot.
The militant group, which last week said it had killed Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni, on Saturday gave the French government 48 hours to rescind the headscarf ban, without saying what would happen to the two Frenchmen if it failed to comply.
"We will continue, come what may, to follow all contacts ... with civil and religious personalities to explain the reality of the French republic ... and obtain the release of these people," Barnier said in Cairo, informs Reuters.
According to the ABC News, France has made clear that the headscarf ban, part of a "secularity" law aimed at reinforcing the separation of religion and state, will go ahead regardless when schools re-open this week.
The pan-Arab television channel Al Jazeera also condemned the killing and kidnapping of journalists in Iraq and called for the "immediate release" of the abducted newsmen.
"The Al Jazeera channel condemns all that journalists are subjected to in Iraq, including killings, kidnappings and restrictions," said a statement from the manager's office of the Doha-based station.
Sunday, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat also urged the kidnappers to release the reporters, calling France a "good friend" of the Palestinian people, says the Voice of America. Read earlier news stories by PRAVDA.Ru