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Colombians Around The World Denounce FARC

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's report next on a country that has sometimes seemed divided against itself, as Lebanon has. Colombians around the world marched on Sunday in an impressive show of protest against a rebel group. From Paris to New York and from Bogota to Australia, Colombians came together by the millions to demand that the group release nearly 700 hostages that it still holds in remote jungle camps.

These rallies show that the group called FARC is more isolated than ever, and NPR's Juan Forero has more from Bogota, Colombia.

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(Soundbite of music, "Beethoven's Ninth Symphony")

JUAN FORERO: Colombia's most renowned conductor, Andres Orozco, traveled all the way from Vienna to lead Bogota's symphony in a park concert attended by thousands of people.

(Soundbite of music, "Beethoven's Ninth Symphony")

FORERO: It's "Beethoven's Ninth Symphony," which celebrates brotherhood, and the brotherhood stretched across the globe. In Paris, the rocker Juanes played near the Eiffel Tower.

(Soundbite of music)

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JUANES (Rock Musician): (Singing in Spanish)

FORERO: Singing "Sueno Libertad" - dreaming liberty. It's about those held prisoner in Colombia's vast, nearly impenetrable jungle. And in Colombia's far southern fringe, the singers included the pop star Shakira, who accompanied Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and the presidents of Brazil and Peru.

Just months ago, the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, had hoped to gain international relevancy by releasing some of its hostages. Six Colombian politicians were granted their freedom. But the strategy badly backfired. The maneuver didn't isolate Colombia's conservative, U.S.-backed government, as the FARC had hoped. Instead, the world condemned the group for its long practice of holding hundreds of prisoners in the jungle for years on end, pawns in the rebel effort to win the release of guerilla prisoners held in government jails.

The daring rescue on July 2 of 15 hostages, including three Americans, only gave march organizers more momentum. On Sunday, the most famous former hostage, Ingrid Bettencourt, addressed huge crowds in Paris. She's a French-Colombian politician and author who'd been held six years. She spoke about the rescue that liberated her and about the soldiers, policemen and politicians who remain in FARC hands. She also demanded that the FARC's commander, Alfonso Cano, release them.

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. INGRID BETTENCOURT (Former Presidential Candidate, Colombia): (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: She said understand, understand that it's time to lay down your weapons, to exchange them for roses. That's the message of millions.

(Soundbite of music)

FORERO: In Bogota, whole avenues were closed as hundreds of thousands of people blew whistles and shouted: Liberate them now. John Bermudez was among them. He's an economist whose father was once kidnapped by the FARC. He says the FARC is a retrograde group that represents a miniscule percentage of people.

Mr. JOHN BERMUDEZ (Economist): My people are furious because we're against people who hold other people against their will in order to further their own political objectives. That's wrong.

FORERO: The FARC has been silent about the public rage directed against them. The group only offered a vague statement recently that implied the hostages who'd been rescued on July 2nd had actually escaped. But in Bogota's biggest park, tens of thousands were arrayed against the rebel group. They also came to hear classical music.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

FORERO: The conductor Orozco has a schedule chock full of European concerts, but he didn't think twice when the invitation came to participate in Bogota.

Mr. Andres Orozco (Conductor, Bogota, Colombia): (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: He said it was a way to show the world that Colombians are united and that what people here want is an end to the violence. Juan Forero, NPR News, Bogota. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.