Friday April 9, 2:24 PM
Hundreds stage rally against Japan's decision to keep troops in Iraq
Some 600 people have staged a demonstration in Tokyo, calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops as demanded by militants in Iraq, who are holding three Japanese nationals hostage.
The rally was held near the Cabinet Office and the Diet building following reports that the three were taken hostage in Iraq by an armed group which threatened to kill them unless Japanese troops were pulled out within three days.
Demonstrators handed over a letter to an official of the Cabinet Office, calling on Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to pull Japanese troops out of Iraq and take responsibility for the crisis.
"You should take responsibility for following the Bush administration as you are fully aware that the dispatch of the Self-Defence Forces will hurt both Japanese and Iraqi people," the letter said.
The protestors carried banners reading: "Bring them home now, Koizumi. Why don't you go to Iraq instead of the three hostages?"
The previously unknown "Mujahedeen Brigades," threatened in a statement Thursday that the three would be "burned alive" unless Japanese troops were pulled out, according to the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite channel.
"Is reconstruction support more important than the life of Japanese people?" said Sou Kinoshita, a 21-year-old member of a citizens' group, who joined the demonstration.
"It is negligence of the prime minister's duty to feed the victims' lives to the lion," Kinoshita said. "We will continue making our demand for the (troop) withdrawal."
Japan, a close ally of the United States, has deployed some 550 ground troops to Samawa in predominantly Shiite southern Iraq to provide clean water, medical assistance and repair schools.