Pop star Shakira to lead protests against FARC

Millions of people, including pop star Shakira, will demonstrate across Colombia and in the rest of the world against the FARC rebel group. It continues to hold hundreds of hostages.


Pop star Shakira is to lead nationwide demonstrations in her native Colombia on Sunday demanding the liberation of hundreds of hostages held by rebels in the jungle for years.

Around 80 solidarity rallies are also to take place in other cities around Latin America and the rest of the world, including one in Paris that will include recently freed Franco-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt.

"On July 20, I want to shout out, with you, for the independence and liberty of those who are still hostage of the FARC in Colombia," Betancourt told the French parliament early this month.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) continues to detain an estimated 700 hostages.

Sunday's rallies are calling for their immediate release, and those of prisoners held by other rebel groups.

Around five million people are expected to take part in the Colombian demonstrations to be held in some 1,000 towns and cities across the country.

The marches coincide with Colombia's independence day celebrations, which are to be attended by President Alvaro Uribe and his guests, president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Alan Garcia of Peru, in the southern town of Leticia.

Shakira, Colombia's world-famous pop icon, is to sing Colombia's national anthem at the start of that commemoration before launching into a concert in support of the hostage liberation demonstration.

Juanes, another Colombian singer, and other high-profile musicians will also be lending their voices to the liberation initiative.

In the capital Bogota, more than 50,000 people are expected to fill the central city square.

Some of the 14 other hostages who were freed with Betancourt -- supposedly through a ruse operation by Colombia's military -- will be present there and in other cities.

Three US defense contractors who were liberated at the same time are back in the United States and will not be participating, however.

It will be the third national demonstration of its type in Colombia. The last was on February 4.

Olga Lucia Gomez, head of the Free Country Foundation working to free the hostages, said the rallies "are to demand not only the liberation of the rebels' hostages, but also all those being held against their will by whoever they may be."

Julio Roberto Gomez, president of a workers' union, told a media conference it was also an opportunity to shine the spotlight on the hundreds of hostages -- many of them poor rural residents -- who were not famous enough to generate individual public campaigns.

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