Militants holding two French journalists hostage in Iraq gave France another 24 hours on Monday to revoke its ban on Muslim headscarves in schools, Al Jazeera reported. The Arabic TV station showed a tape of the journalists urging the French people to hold protests to persuade their government to retract the headscarf law, saying that otherwise they might be killed. The French government said earlier there was no question of the ban being revoked. President Jacques Chirac planned to go ahead with a trip to Russia on Monday despite the crisis. "In response to the hostages' plea to give them a chance to deliver their message to their government, the Islamic Army in Iraq has decided to extend the deadline by 24 hours," Al Jazeera quoted a written statement from the kidnappers as saying. The militant group, which declared last week 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, informs Reuter. According to Telegraph, 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. Herald Sun publishes that Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin will preside over a ministerial crisis meeting today after an ultimatum on two French hostages held in Iraq was extended by 24 hours, a source close to him said. The meeting, to be held at 11:30am (1830 AEST) at the prime minister's office, was to be attended by Education Minister Francois Fillon, Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie, Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin, Communications Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres and government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope. Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, who is on a diplomatic swing through the Middle East in a bid to obtain the release of the two journalists, will be represented by his aide Pierre Vimont. The French journalists held hostage by Islamist captors in Iraq were shown in a video on Al-Jazeera TV yesterday urging the French government to revoke a ban on Islamic headscarves and warning that their lives were at stake. The appeal by Radio France correspondent Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper, who also called on their compatriots to demonstrate against the ban, came as Al-Jazeera reported that their captors had extended by 24 hours an ultimatum to Paris, which expired late yesterday.
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