TV: Italian hostages in Iraq alive, well
Arabic satellite channel Al Jazeera aired a tape on Wednesday of three Italian hostages held hostage in Iraq which it said was dated May 31.
One of the three men, shown eating at a table and then seated next to each other, said they were being treated well, Al Jazeera said. The man was speaking in Italian.
"Today is Monday, May 31, 2004. We tell the government, the Pope, the Catholic church and our families that we have been treated in an excellent manner up to now and we are well," the channel quoted one of the Italians as saying as he pointed to his colleagues.
"We have had no problems with the men holding us in this place," he said as he sat between the other two in front of a white wall. They were first shown eating a dish of rice and meat at a round table.
Four Italians working for a U.S. security firm were abducted on April 12 near Baghdad. One of them was shot dead after Italy refused to bow to demands to withdraw its troops from Iraq.
Italy has some 2,700 troops based in the southern town of Nassiriya, the third-biggest contingent to U.S.-led occupation forces after the United States and Britain.
Al Jazeera also showed an Arabic-language statement by the kidnappers, calling itself the Green Battalion, urging Italian people to demonstrate against the policies of President Bush and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
"Day after day, it becomes clear to Iraqis that your government is part of the decisions of the U.S. occupier and follows the decisions of the criminal Bush. And there is news of a visit by Bush to your land, creating more differences between the Iraqi and Italian people," the statement said.
"Your government is ignoring the fate of the three Italian hostages and the dire consequences they face. Italian people must stage protests condemning President Bush and the Italian government as a message against these policies and this visit."
In Rome on Wednesday, opponents of the Iraq war held demonstrations, two days before Bush visits Italy.
Dozens of foreigners have been taken hostage by Iraqi armed groups who are battling the U.S.-led presence in Iraq. Some hostages have been released but others have been killed.