France has vowed not to give in to the demands of terrorists who are holding two French journalists in Iraq. Militants calling themselves the Islamic Army in Iraq have said that they will release Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot if the French government abandons a law banning religious apparel - including Muslim headscarves - in state schools. The same terrorist group was reportedly responsible for the execution of an Italian journalist last week. Malbrunot was working for Le Figaro at the time of his capture. The French daily condemned the "monstrous and unspeakable" kidnapping, and the "cowardly strategy" of "threatening the individual, the citizen, in order to manipulate the state". France had hoped to escape such incidents due to its stance on Iraq, it said, but became a terrorist target "not on the grounds of a foreign policy decision but because of domestic policy". Le Figaro defended the new law on religious apparel as "a law of freedom" preserving French secularism - "the guarantor of all religions". Libйration's Patrick Sabatier feared that the headscarf ban was just an "opportune pretext" for the terrorists, who really wanted to "light the spark of a war of civilisations" through their actions. "There isn't much time left to save Chesnot and Malbrunot," he said, but readers should stay hopeful in view of diplomatic efforts to save them, informs Guardian Unlimited. According to NYTimes, In a rare display of national unity, French officials, opposition politicians and religious leaders vowed today that they will not allow the fate of two French hostages in Iraq to interfere with a new law on a piece of cloth. The French government announced that it will implement its ban on Muslim head scarves and other conspicuous religious symbols from public schools when they open this Thursday, despite the kidnappers' demand that it is must be abolished. "The law will be applied," a government spokesman, Jean-Franзois Cope, said in an interview today with Canal Plus television. Franзois Hollande, the leader of the opposition Socialist Party, joined in a chorus of condemnation of the kidnapping of the journalists Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, saying, "It is democracy that is attacked and the laws of the Republic that are targeted." Several thousand people gathered in Paris this afternoon to demonstrate support for the journalists and the French state. They chanted, "Free the Hostages!" and sang "La Marseillaise." Two French journalists being held captive in Iraq appeared last night in a video urging France to lift the ban on Muslim headscarves in schools as their kidnappers extended their deadline for a further 24 hours. The video, broadcast on Arabic television station Al-Jazeera, showed the journalists speaking to the camera asking French people to hold protests and persuade the government to rescind the ban. A previous 48-hour deadline expired last night. The ultimatum issued by the so-called Islamic Army in Iraq passed without immediate news of the fate of Georges Malbrunot, 41, and Christian Chesnot, 37. They disappeared with their Syrian-born driver, Mohammed al-Joundi, after leaving Baghdad on Aug 20 for the Shia holy city of Najaf. Mr Malbrunot's girlfriend appealed last night to the "strength that is special to the Muslim religion" to save the men. Speaking as hundreds of people gathered for a vigil outside the town hall at Montaiguet-en-Forez, the home in central France of Mr Malbrunot's family, Sylvie Cherpin praised political and religious leaders who have buried differences to plead for the journalists' release. Among the other demonstrations staged as the deadline approached, politicians and fellow-journalists joined about 1,000 people at the Trocadero in central Paris, publishes Telegraph.
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