Sat, Jul 07, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Millions rally in Colombian protests

AFP , BOGOTA

Millions of Colombians brought the country to a near standstill on Thursday in nationwide protests to demand that armed groups release thousands of hostages they are holding.

Demonstrators wore white shirts and waved white handkerchiefs to show their unity in demanding an end to the conflict that has torn the country apart for the past four decades.

At midday a cacophony of car horns, church bells and whistles resonated in major cities as Colombians turned out en masse for the protest called after 11 hostages held by leftist rebels were killed last month.

The demonstrators demanded "freedom without conditions now" for the more than 3,000 people held hostage by leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups and criminals countrywide.

Families of hostages, civic groups and the Roman Catholic Church organized the protest after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said 11 lawmakers it had held hostage were killed in a raid by soldiers -- though the government has said the incident never happened.

The Free Country Foundation, a non-governmental organization, estimates that FARC has about 765 hostages in all.

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