Colombians take to the streets to demand release of hostages

Betancourt leads simultaneous event in Paris, reading out a list of names of 27 hostages still held

Colombians poured on to streets across the country yesterday in huge rallies to send their strongest message yet to leftwing rebels to release all of their remaining hostages held in jungle camps.

Wearing white T-shirts with slogans such as "Free them now" or the name of a hostage, an estimated 1 million marchers in Bogotá walked through main avenues filling plazas and public parks.

The marches were called following the rescue on July 2 of 15 hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), including French Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, three American defence contractors and 11 members of Colombia's security forces.

Betancourt lead a simultaneous event in Paris where she read out a list of names of 27 hostages still held by the Farc as bargaining chips for negotiations with the government and called for their release.

"We want freedom for everyone," said Betancourt, speaking in Spanish amid applause and chants from the crowd of "Libertad" (Freedom).

Similar events were planned for other cities across the United States, Latin America and Europe. In Leticia, the capital of Colombia's Amazon province, pop stars Shakira and Carlos Vives gave a free concert, sharing a stage with President Álvaro Uribe.

The marches coincided with Colombian independence day, which is usually marked by solemn military parades.

"We have to support those who are still there," said Alejandro Martínez, who marched through Bogotá with his wife and eight-year-old son. "We have to let them know we will not forget them."

The Farc continues to hold an estimated 700 hostages. Other rebel groups, paramilitary militias and criminals are holding more than 2,000 others, according to the Fundación Pais Libre, which tracks kidnappings.

The number of kidnappings has dropped from a decade ago when Colombia was considered the kidnapping capital of the world but abductions are frequent. On Friday, the Farc kidnapped 10 people from a boat on the Atrato river in the Pacific coast province of Chocó.


Sibylla Brodzinsky

The GuardianTramp

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