PARIS, Aug 31 (AFP) - European press comment Tuesday on French government efforts to free two kidnapped reporters ranged from praise for Paris's stand on terrorism to serve-you-right criticism of its opposition to the US-led war in Iraq.
In Warsaw, right-wing daily Zycie said the abduction of Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot had woken France from its "sweet dream" that "opposition to American policy in Iraq would protect it from a conflict with the universe of Islamic terrorists."
Another Polish newspaper, left-of-centre Gazeta Wyborcza, said the government's decision to send Foreign Minister Michel Barnier to "negotiate with the kidnappers, or more likely with their political, military and financial backers, is in itself a success for the terrorists."
Malbrunot, 41, who works for a leading French newspaper, Le Figaro, and Chesnot, 37, a Radio France International correspondent, went missing in Baghdad on August 20.
A group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq has demanded that the French government rescind a ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves in state schools which is due to come into force on Thursday. In a video message Monday, the reporters expressed fears for their lives.
Germany's left-of-centre daily Berliner Zeitung said the kidnappers' demand was a threat to the government's legitimacy and that "to yield to it in order to save two lives would endanger the safety of all."
But in London, the daily Independent's columnist John Lichfield said the demand was not "part of some concerted Islamic Islamist campaign against the new rules" in French schools but "a piece of cynical opportunism".
Chesnot and Malbrunot were not kidnapped because they were French, but because they were Western journalists who were doing their job, Lichfield said.
Noting that "France has no military, or any other, presence in Iraq," he said "the militants had to concoct some sort of demand" and added that "the headscarves law was the obvious target."
Lichfield, a critic of the British government's support for the US-led war in Iraq, added that "France was in the forefront of the fight against Islamist violence when the US and Britain were looking elsewhere."
It had opposed the Iraq war "as a distraction from the real war on fundamentalist terrorism which might put the West on a collision course with Islam," he said, and added: "Eighteen months after, those arguments look even saner than they did at the time."
Expressing good luck to Barnier on his mission, Lichfield said: "One would like to hope that all Western governments - including that of Britain - would take such pains to try to rescue a pair of kidnapped journalists."
French newspapers, for their part, gave front-page treatment to the drama, several among them carrying photos of thousands of people who demonstrated in solidarity with the hostages in Paris on Monday.
French hostage’s partner calls on power of Islam to save him
MONTAIGUET-EN-FOREZ, France, Aug 30 (AFP) - The companion of Georges Malbrunot, one of two French journalists kidnapped by Islamic militants in Iraq, on Monday called on the power of Islam to help save her partner.
"I'm not a believer, but I have always been impressed by the power of religions to rally people," a visibly emotional Sylvie Cherpin told hundreds of supporters gathered in 41-year-old Malbrunot's central hometown of Montaiguet-en-Forez.
Photo: French Women Call for End to Head Scarf Ban
"So I call on the very particular power of the Muslim religion to continue to make a favorable impression on us," she added, reading from a prepared text.
Late Saturday, a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed it had kidnapped Malbrunot, who works for Le Figaro newspaper, and 37-year-old Radio France correspondent Christian Chesnot, who went missing in Iraq on August 20.
The shadowy Sunni Muslim group gave Paris 48 hours - a deadline that was set to expire late Monday - to rescind its controversial ban on the wearing of Islamic headscarves in state schools and universities.
Cherpin, showing the crowd her necklace, said: "Georges brought me this from Baghdad. It wasn't a souvenir from a vacation or a war, but an object from the region that Georges and his colleague Christian have been taking in for several years and about which they have understood the very essence."
She thanked both French political and religious leaders for their "unity in support of the release of our two friends."