At Least 14 Americans to be Freed With Muhammad Ali With PM-Gulf-UN, Bjt
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Iraqi officials have promised to free at least 14 American hostages in response to a plea from former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, his spokesman said.
A left-wing British lawmaker, meanwhile, left Baghdad today saying 15 Britons would be released in response to a request he made in a meeting with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
And in Finland, there were reports that a Finnish delegation had secured the release of five of the eight Finns being held.
Three Canadian lawmakers negotiated the release five of the 45 Canadians trapped in Iraq and Kuwait. The lawmakers said that unlike other nations that sent medicines and made overtures to Iraq in exchange for captives, they had made no deals with Saddam.
They implied their stance had reduced the number of Canadians freed.
Ali, who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and who traveled to Baghdad at the invitation of Iraq, met with Saddam on Tuesday for 50 minutes. Ali used hand signals to communicate with Jaber Mohammed, who speaks for him.
Saddam used the meeting, which was shown on Iraqi television, to repeat that the hostages, which he calls guests, are being well treated.
Ali’s spokesman, Jaber Mohammed, said the 48-year-old former champion and his entourage expect to leave Baghdad on Saturday and hope to receive a list of the hostages to be freed today. He said Iraq promised Ali at least 14 hostages.
The government has prevented hundreds of Westerners from leaving since its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. But it has allowed some captives to leave with visiting politicians, prominent public figures and peace groups.
The Bush administration has condemned the sporadic releases as aimed at dividing the world alliance against Iraq.
Almost 1,000 Americans remain in Iraq and Kuwait, more than 100 held as ″human shields″ at strategic military and industrial sites in Iraq. Hundreds from other nations are also being held in Iraq and the occupied emirate.
British lawmaker Tony Benn, who met with the Iraqi president on Wednesday, said he was told the British hostages would be freed soon, but no specific timetable was given. The Parliament member, from Britain’s opposition Labor Party, traveled to Baghdad on Sunday in search of ″possibilities of a peaceful settlement″ to the gulf crisis, he said.
Canadian lawmakers said they had made no deals with Saddam.
″We have made no concessions, signed no declarations, have not been involved in bargaining or bartering,″ said Canadian lawmaker, Robert Corbett. ″We made it clear we had nothing to offer.″
The delegation arrived in Amman today with two of the five Canadians released by Iraq - Hassanain Abdul Aziz, 18, from Toronto, and Lee Binns, 38, of Calgary. The other three were expected to leave shortly.
″We came to Iraq hoping to return home with 47 Canadians,″ lawmaker Svend Robinson told reporters at Amman airport. ″But some delegations came back after having paid a fairly heavy price. There is no question about that.″
″They were prepared to take a step that we simply as a delegation were not prepared to take,″ Robinson said.
Sixty-eight Italians arrived in Rome from Iraq late Wednesday. The Syrian- born archbishop who secured their freedom, Hilarion Capucci, said he would return to Iraq for more.
The Italian government also sent a plane load of medicine to Iraq.
French, German and Swedish hostages were freed after the governments of those countries called for a peaceful solution to the gulf crisis. France and Sweden also indicated there could be some linkage between Iraq’s solution of the gulf crisis and the Palestinian question - after Iraq pulls out of Kuwait.
A Foreign Ministry official said in Stockholm, Sweden, that Iraqi authorities started issuing exit visas to all Swedish hostages today and they were expected to be allowed to leave Friday.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, meanwhile, the Jyllands-Posten newspaper said that a group of Danes stranded in Iraq and Kuwait are looking for a prominent fellow citizen to come to Baghdad to win their release.