Colombians demand hostages’ release on Independence Day


Leticia (Colombia) : With marches and concerts, more than a million Colombians have celebrated their country’s 198th Independence Day and demanded the leftist rebels free everyone they have been holding hostage, EFE news agency reported Monday.

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In Leticia, the capital city of southernmost province of Amazonas, a military parade was organised to mark the day Sunday that was witnessed by President Alvaro Uribe and his Brazilian and Peruvian counterparts Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Alan Garcia, respectively.

Colombian pop singer Shakira kicked off the parade, singing the national anthem. The “Hips Don’t Lie” singer also recalled that Sunday was a historic day as all the countrymen united to demand the release of all kidnap victims and peace in the South American country, which has been in the grip of a bloody internal conflict for more than four decades.

“I’m delighted and happy to be in Leticia, happy to take part in this historic day for all us Colombians who have united in the largest demonstration we have had in our history,” she said.

Shakira travelled back to her country Sunday from London, where she is recording her latest album, to take part in the concerts being staged in most Colombian municipalities and in several cities around the world, calling for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas to release all their hostages.

“It’s a very important event for us, for the nation, for our president and for the presidents of our neighbouring countries,” Shakira said.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe thanked the singer for her generosity in coming and being with the countrymen on the special day. Uribe also thanked his counterparts from Brazil and Peru for becoming part of the Independence Day celebration.

“Here in Leticia July 20 has much significance, a message … for each square (inch) of the homeland, a message … for each (citizen), a message of commitment to liberty that is expressed here with the singing of the little parrots, parakeets and all the little birds of the Amazon jungle that are free 24 hours a day,” he added.

Garcia, in his remarks, said that he felt “satisfaction and joy” at being in the border city “to accompany the Colombian people and their president” on Independence Day.

Residents of more than 1,100 cities across the country held marches Sunday for the third time in five months to demand that illegal armed groups and criminals release the thousands of people they are holding hostage.

According to officials, at least one million people, in seven marches along an equal number of different routes, took to the streets in the Colombian capital wearing white T-shirts, releasing balloons into the air and chanting “Freedom, freedom, freedom”.

Demonstrators chanted “freedom” in rallies across the Andean nation and in about 40 cities abroad including Paris, London, Miami, Beijing, Sydney and New York.