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Hundreds in Rome Call for Release of Italian Aid Worker in Afghanistan

Hundreds of people turned out in the square in front of Rome's city hall to call for the release of Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni, kidnapped in Afghanistan seven days ago. The demonstration was called by the mayor in a show of support for the worker.

Hundreds of ordinary people, politicians and a number of Afghans took part in the candle-light vigil from Rome's city hall to the Coliseum. Rome mayor Walter Veltroni organized Monday evening's demonstration to make sure the Italian aid worker does not feel she has been left alone.

Thirty-two-year-old Clementina Cantoni was kidnapped a week ago. She was in the Afghan capital working for the aid organization Care International. Four armed men pulled her from her car Monday evening as she was driving home.

A large photograph of the smiling Italian aid worker hangs from Rome's city council next to the ones of French journalist Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi interpreter, who are still in the hands of their Iraqi captors after more than four months.

Standing by the mayor in the square were other women who were held hostage in recent months in Iraq, including Giuliana Sgrena released on March 4. She launched her message to Clementina: Do not despair, we will free you.

The Rome Mayor said he wanted Clementina to know that the whole of Italy is behind her. Mr. Veltroni said that when the news arrived of the kidnapping a week ago, former hostage Giuliana Sgrena was in his office and told him how important it was for her to see the demonstration that was held to call for her release because it made her understand she was not alone.

A group of Afghans was also present at the demonstration. We are ashamed, said one young man. Clementina was in his country to assist the widows of men who fought for the freedom of Afghanistan.

The Afghan authorities believe a criminal group led by a former district police chief who calls himself Timor Shah is holding the Italian aid worker. The group has issued various ultimatums, even announcing that the hostage had been killed.