Thousands of protesters have gathered in Tokyo to urge the Japanese government to withdraw its troops from Iraq, where insurgents holding three Japanese hostages have threatened to kill them unless Tokyo removes its forces.
The demonstrators staged a night-time vigil outside the residence of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi late Friday.
Earlier protests were organized near government offices in Tokyo, where demonstrators carried banners urging Mr. Koizumi not to let the hostages die.
The families of the hostages have also pleaded with the government to withdraw its troops from Iraq to save their relatives, but Mr. Koizumi said Tokyo will not give in to the terrorists' demands.
Television networks in Japan have repeatedly aired dramatic video of the three hostages moaning in terror as their Iraqi captors menaced them with knives. A previously unknown group released the videotape of the victims --two men and one woman -- and threatened to "burn them alive" unless Japan meets its demands.
In addition to the three Japanese hostages, Iraqi insurgents are believed to be holding one Canadian aid worker, a British national, a Palestinian and an Israeli Arab. A spokesman for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat says he has personally intervened to seek the release of the two Arab hostages.
Information for this report is provided by AP and Reuters.