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October 26, 2004

Hundreds demonstrate for release of 'Mama Margaret' Hassan

From: Independent - London,England,UK - Oct 26, 2004

By Kim Sengupta in Baghdad

26 October 2004

Hundreds of people took to the streets in Baghdad yesterday to show their support for kidnapped aid worker Margaret Hassan - the first time there has been such a public protest against an abduction since the wave of hostage-taking began.

Many of those taking part were disabled people who had benefited from the work carried out by Mrs Hassan, the country director for the charity Care International. Among them were 30 pupils from a school for deaf children carrying her photographs asking for the release of "Mama Margaret".

However, the kidnappings continued with the snatching of the youngest foreign hostage so far, a Lebanese boy aged seven. Mohammed Hamad was taken away by armed men while walking from his school at Diyala province, east of Baghdad. It was reported that his father has received a ransom demand for $150,000 (£81,500). The Leban-ese embassy said it was working with Iraqi authorities to secure the boy's release.

The demonstration for Mrs Hassan, who is married to an Iraqi and has lived in the country for 30 years, took place outside the offices of Care in Baghdad. The organisation has suspended operations in Iraq since she was kidnapped last week. The kidnappers subsequently released a video in which she was seen weeping and pleading for Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, not to send British troops north from Basra to join American operations.

Ahmed Jabir, a boy in a wheelchair, said: " If it wasn't for her, we would probably have died. She built us a hospital and took care of us. She made us feel happy again. I can truly say that we love her, and we are very upset by what has happened."

Nasrat al-Asdi, who had brought the children from the deaf school, said: "She has been invaluable for them. Not only did she give us money for hearing aids but she reconstructed the institute. We could not believe they would do this to someone like her."

Haider Fatih, 32, said: "We can't let Neanderthals trying to send Iraq back into the dark ages succeed. What is happening is very bad, and we are making a stand against it."

A car bomb targeting an Australian military convoy exploded near the country's embassy in Baghdad. The explosion killed three Iraqis and injured eight others, including three Australian soldiers. No one in the Australian military has been killed in Iraq so far.

2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd