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Indian Protesters Appeal for Negotiations to Obtain Release of Hostages Held in Iraq - 2004-07-30

The families of three Indians being held hostage in Iraq are appealing to the Indian government to negotiate their release. Tensions are rising in the hometowns of the captives, who were working for a Kuwaiti company.

Hundreds of protesters from the tiny town of Una, in Himachal Pradesh, squatted on a state highway, blocking traffic and demanding the government act swiftly to secure the release of the three men.

Una is the hometown of two of the hostages, who were taken captive more than a week ago.

Friday's demonstration followed a threat by the Iraqi kidnappers to kill one of the Indians, if the kidnappers' demands were not met. A video broadcast Thursday showed a masked man pointing a rifle at one of the captives.

The group that is holding the three Indians is also holding three Kenyans and an Egyptian. The group is demanding that the Kuwaiti transport company for which the seven men work stop doing business in Iraq, because it supports the United States.

Worries about the hostages have increased following the recent execution of two Pakistani hostages in Iraq.

The father of one of the Indian captives, Ram Murthi, appealed to the kidnappers on Indian television to release his son.

He said that the hostages are poor people, and could do little to fulfill the kidnappers' demands, which should be made to the government.

India has already urged the kidnappers to free the men, saying they are not there as occupiers.

India's foreign secretary, Shashank, says the government is working toward the safe return of its citizens.

Mr. Shashank said that the truck drivers were ordinary workers who went to Iraq to earn some money. He says the Indian government did not send them.

India did not support the U.S.-led invasion and has no soldiers in Iraq.