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SLUG: 2-315050 Japan / Iraq Hostages (L/S)
TITLE=JAPAN/IRAQ HOSTAGES (S/L)
INTRO: Japan's government says it is trying to determine if two more of its citizens have been kidnapped in Iraq. Steve Herman has more from Tokyo.
TEXT: Japanese media say a freelance photographer and an activist have been kidnapped in suburban Baghdad.
But the government says it has yet to confirm that the two have indeed been abducted.
Yasuo Fukuda is the government's spokesman.
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Mr. Fukuda says the government learned early Thursday morning that the two were missing and there were reports they had been taken hostage.
The two men are identified as Jumpei Yasuda, a freelance photographer, and Nobutaka Watanabe, a civic activist. They would bring to five the number of Japanese being held by armed insurgents in Iraq.
Japan on Thursday condemned the killing of one of four Italian hostages in Iraq. The group that abducted the Italians has demanded that Italy pull its troops out of Iraq. The militants who snatched three Japanese last week also demanded that Tokyo withdraw its troops.
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Japan on Wednesday strongly urged all of its civilians in Iraq, including journalists, to immediately leave. The Foreign Ministry says it has no accurate count of how many Japanese freelance journalists and activists are in Iraq, but the total is likely more than 70.
Japan has appealed to a number of countries, including the United States, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Tunisia, for help in freeing the kidnapped Japanese.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has repeatedly said that Japan will not comply with the demands of those holding the Japanese hostages.
Japan has more than five hundred troops in the Samawah area of southern Iraq. They were sent to help in reconstruction efforts and Japan has been planning to double the size of its contingent there.
The deployment, however, has been controversial in Japan, and the hostage-taking has created rising pressure on the Japanese government at home.
It is believed that armed groups in Iraq are holding about 40 hostages from some 12 countries. Coalition officials in Baghdad say the U-S Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into the rash of kidnappings that began last week. (Signed)
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