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Romania asks Iraq kidnappers to extend deadline
Updated: 2005-04-27 22:25

Romania asked the kidnappers of three Romanian journalists in Iraq to extend a deadline, due to expire at 1400 GMT on Wednesday, to kill them unless the Balkan country pulls out its troops.

Staunch US ally Romania has not said whether it will withdraw its 800 soldiers from Iraq amid increasing pressure from the public and opposition parties as a result of the hostage crisis.

"Romanian authorities ask for the extension of the deadline set by the group holding the three Romanian citizens," the Romanian presidency said in a statement.

The presidency, which has taken over the handling of the crisis, also asked the Muslim Clerics Association -- a Sunni Muslim body in Iraq which has previously mediated in the release of hostages -- to participate in efforts to free the three.

Prima TV reporter Marie Jeanne Ion, 32, cameraman Sorin Miscoci, 30, and Romania Libera daily journalist Ovidiu Ohanesian, 37, were snatched in Baghdad on March 28 while on a short reporting trip.

After weeks of silence, their abductors set a Tuesday deadline for their execution unless Romania pulled out of Iraq but extended it by one day at the last minute.

In the latest Al Jazeera video tape aired on Tuesday, they were shown handcuffed, sitting on the floor and guarded by armed masked men. They appeared haggard and distressed.

Miscoci was dressed in orange overalls and Romanian TV described this as "the colour of death", saying abductors in the past used this symbolism to show they were serious.

Opinion polls show 70 percent of Romanians think the new NATO member should withdraw its soldiers from Iraq to save the journalists' lives, while the hostages' parents have appealed to President Traian Basescu to withdraw the troops.

A pullout would be a further blow to the US-led coalition in Iraq after Italy, Bulgaria, Poland and Ukraine said they will reduce their presence there.

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