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Thursday, April 15, 2004

Koizumi swipe at 'terrorists' downplayed


Staff writer

Government officials tried to play down allegations Wednesday that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has prolonged the crisis over three Japanese being held hostage in Iraq by calling their captors "terrorists."

The kidnappers apparently decided against freeing the three civilians after Koizumi said Friday that Japan would not yield to "terrorists," Sheikh Abdel Sala Al-Kubaissi of the Islamic Clerics Association said Tuesday in Iraq. The sheikh's statement was widely reported Wednesday by Japanese media.

"I know of the reports, but I'd like you to consider whether discussing the matter is positive for realizing the hostages' release," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said.

In a faxed statement sent to Qatar-based TV station Al-Jazeera early Sunday morning, the captors, identifying themselves as members of the group Saraya al-Mujahideen, said they would release the hostages within 24 hours. The group has since remained silent.

The group initially threatened to burn the hostages to death unless Japan withdrew its Self-Defense Forces troops deployed to Iraq. On Friday, Koizumi said, "We should not yield to such a dirty threat from terrorists."

Koizumi on Wednesday again strongly criticized the kidnappers, saying: "Whether (the hostages) are Japanese or people of other countries, kidnapping is an unforgivable criminal act. One should refrain from behaving or speaking in a manner that sides with arguments" to defend the kidnappers.

Whether the recent uprisings in Iraq meanwhile constitute mere acts of "resistance" by insurgents against the U.S.-led occupation or "terrorist attacks" could perhaps be a topic for debate, especially the fierce fighting in the central city of Fallujah between local Sunni Muslim fighters and U.S. forces.

The government believes the three hostages are possibly being held near Fallujah. In the fax message sent to Al-Jazeera on Sunday, the kidnappers blamed the U.S. for killing a number of Iraqi people in Fallujah.

Asked to comment on the U.S. combat with the fighters in Fallujah, Fukuda responded, "Please do not ask such a difficult question."

Koizumi behind Bush

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Wednesday welcomed U.S. President George W. Bush's stated readiness to send additional troops to Iraq to ensure sovereignty is turned over to the Iraqi people by June 30 as promised.

At a news conference Tuesday, Bush said U.S. troops need to be in Iraq "for awhile" in the face of ongoing fighting in many parts of the country, adding, "If additional forces are needed, I will send them."

Koizumi said the announcement shows Bush's willingness "to deal thoroughly with personnel and equipment to keep order and create a democratic government in Iraq."

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda also indicated support for Bush, telling reporters that the president is determined to help rebuild the country "together with the international community, including Iraqis and the United Nations."

Fukuda said it is commendable that Bush expressed readiness to accept a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq to help ensure greater U.N. involvement.

Olympic aid offered

Staff report

Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi on Wednesday urged Ahmed Al-Samarrai, president of the National Olympic Committee of Iraq, to tell Iraqis that Self-Defense Forces troops have only been dispatched to the country for humanitarian purposes.

"I hope the president will tell the Iraqis that Japan's intention is purely" to rebuild Iraq, Kawaguchi was quoted as telling Al-Samarrai.

"Our purpose is to cooperate toward its reconstruction."

Kawaguchi added that Japan has decided to provide some 25 million yen in aid to Iraq to promote sports activities tied to Iraq's participation in the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

Al-Samarrai voiced gratitude for the aid and promised to convey Kawaguchi's message to the Iraqi people.

Japan will offer boxing, weightlifting and athletics equipment in an effort to help Iraqi athletes striving to participate in international competition, a Japanese official said.

It plans to provide uniforms for the Iraqi team to wear during the opening ceremony in the summer games, the official said.

The government, with the help of Japan Olympic Committee, will invite about 15 Iraqi athletes and coaches of wrestling, boxing, judo and track and field events to Japan in mid-June for a 60-day training course, the official said.



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