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Kidnappers Free Chinese Hostage -- Iraqi Cleric - 2004-04-16


A senior Iraqi Sunni Muslim cleric says kidnappers have freed a Chinese national abducted earlier this week.

Muthanna Harith -- who is a member of the Iraq's Islamic Clerics Committee -- told reporters the man has been handed over to the Chinese embassy in Baghdad. He did not provide details.

Earlier, seven Chinese nationals were released shortly after being taken hostage.

Kidnappers in Iraq are still holding dozens of foreign nationals, including one Danish citizen who was abducted today (Friday).

Thursday, three Japanese hostages were freed. But abductors killed one Italian captive.

Also on Thursday, unidentified gunmen killed the Iranian embassy's cultural and press attache, Khalil Nai'imi, in Baghdad.

It is not clear if the killing will affect efforts by an Iranian delegation to mediate a standoff between the U.S.-led coalition and radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has taken refuge in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf.

Mediation efforts are also continuing in the restive town of Fallujah besieged by U.S. Marines for nearly two weeks. U.S. military officials say insurgents there are continuing to attack Marines, despite a cease-fire announced last Friday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced (Thursday) a 90-day extension of combat tours for 20-thousand American troops in Iraq.

The U.S. military has been moving troops into Iraq to relieve other soldiers, after a year of combat and stabilization efforts. But commanders asked that some troops stay longer while they battle insurgents.

Information for this report is provided by AP and AFP.

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