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Germany

Merkel Urges Kidnappers To Release German Detained in Iraq

New German chancellor Angela Merkel said that her government was doing everything in its power to secure the release of a German archeologist believed kidnapped in Iraq and urged her captors to let her go.

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A still taken from the video aired by the German broadcaster ARD

New German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed Tuesday that a German woman and her driver have been abducted in Iraq and urged the captors to release them unharmed.

"We must conclude they have been kidnapped," she told reporters after an emergency cabinet meeting. "The federal government condemns this act in the strongest terms. We send an urgent appeal to the perpetrators to release the two to safety immediately."

Merkel, who was facing the crisis after only taking office last week, expressed her sympathy with the hostages' loved ones. "All the efforts of the federal government are aimed at ensuring the safety of those affected and protecting their lives," she said.

"In this difficult time, our thoughts are with the relatives and friends of those affected. You can be sure that the government will do everything in its power to bring the two to safety as soon as possible and protect their lives."

Angela Merkel in Frankreich Pressekonferenz

New Chancellor Angela Merkel faces her first international crisis.

Merkel confirmed that a crisis cell at the foreign ministry had been established and was in contact "with all relevant institutions". She said she had spoken with the president of the federal intelligence agency.

Rolling news channel N24 identified the woman as 43-year-old Susanne Osthoff, a trained archaeologist who had been doing aid work in the country for several years.

ARD public television said the woman and her driver had been taken hostage Friday in Ninawa in the northwest of the country. It described her as a convert to Islam and fluent in Arabic.

Kidnappers demand end to German cooperation

The channel said it had obtained a video cassette in Baghdad in which the kidnappers threatened to kill both unless the German government broke off all cooperation with the Iraqi government. It added that the ultimatum gave a "very short time limit".

It published a photograph on its website showing two blindfolded people -- a man and a woman -- kneeling next to three men, their faces hidden by scarves, toting automatic rifles and a grenade-launcher.

Germany training Iraqi security forces

Merkel's Social Democrat predecessor Gerhard Schröder was a vocal opponent of the US-led war in Iraq and ruled out sending German troops to the country. Merkel, a conservative, is leading a power-sharing government of Social Democrats and her Christian Democrats. She has said she will maintain the previous government's policy of not deploying German soldiers in Iraq.

Verfassungsreferendum im Irak

Germany has taken a leading role in training Iraq's security forces.

Germany, however, is training Iraqi security forces at home and in the United Arab Emirates.

Abductee a former aid worker with Arab child

N24 said Osthoff had worked for a German relief organization called "Direkthilfe Irak" (Direct Aid Iraq). Osthoff's mother told the channel her daughter had been organizing aid shipments for Iraq since the 1991 Gulf war and helping to provide medical treatment, adding that she had always "showed an interest in the people, the culture and the country".

The mother said she was counting on the German government to help return her daughter, adding that she had learned of her disappearance from German federal police overnight.

The mayor of her Bavarian hometown Glonn, Martin Esterl, said Osterhoff had an 11-year-old daughter by a man of Arab origin. Conflicting media reports said Osterhoff was married to a Jordanian or an Iraqi.

Symbolbild Geiselnahme

Foreigners are the main targets for kidnappers in Iraq.

Dozens of foreigners have been taken hostage in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003, but the number had been in decline in recent months since foreign aid organizations reduced their staffing in the country.

Some foreigners have been murdered by their kidnappers, often by beheading.

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