March in Paris for Colombian Hostage

PARIS (AP) -- The president of Argentina, France's new first lady and the French foreign minister joined several thousands marchers who rallied Sunday in Paris to demand freedom for kidnapped Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt.

Marchers - led by Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and French first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy - demonstrated near the Paris Opera to show support for Betancourt, who was taken hostage by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in 2002 while campaigning for the country's presidency.

Betancourt is a dual French-Colombian citizen.

Paris police put the number of participants at 5,000. Similar demonstrations were organized in about 10 other cities in France, including Nice, Toulouse, Strasbourg and Bordeaux.

The Paris march drew many Cabinet ministers and celebrities. Fernandez attended the march before talks Monday with President Nicolas Sarkozy. Others included Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Human Rights Minister Rama Yade and Betancourt's son, Lorenzo Delloye.

Betancourt is said to be gravely ill, suffering from hepatitis B and a ravaging skin disease.

On Wednesday, Sarkozy sent a mission to Colombia that included two doctors in hopes of convincing the rebels holding Betancourt to give her urgent medical care and, ultimately, to free her.

The mission has stalled, with officials unable to establish contact with the rebels.

In Colombia, a bishop preaching in a war zone Sunday called on leftist rebels to release Betancourt and hundreds of other, lesser-known captives. The sermon was held amid driving rain in San Jose del Guaviare, a jungle town near where Betancourt is believed to be held.

"We hope that the FARC heeds our appeals and speedily liberates Ingrid Betancourt and the rest of the hostages," Bishop Guillermo Orozco told 400 people crowded into his church.

He urged the rebels to "accept the mediation of the church so we can finally get those hostages free," and said the hostages should "resist and be confident that at some point their release will come."

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