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Colombians march against leftist rebels to demand freedom for hostages
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) ' Tens of thousands marched across Colombia Tuesday to repudiate last month's execution of soldiers and police by leftist rebels, who had held them for more than a decade as political bargaining chips.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, executed the four captives from close range with bullets to the head and back as government troops looking for the men engaged insurgents in combat on Nov. 26.
The government of President Juan Manuel Santos and Colombia's major media firmly backed the marches, which were convoked by relatives of the slain men and of hostages still held by the guerilla group.
A similar citizen mobilization in February 2008 was organized on Facebook and drew several million in Colombia and several world capitals.
Tuesday's turnout was far smaller. Marches were held in cities such as Medellin and Cartagena, with the biggest concentration in the capital of Bogota, where police chief of operations Col. Jorge Gallego estimated the crowd at 100,000.
Small marches were also held in New York and Miami.
The mother of Jorge Trujillo, a 42-year-old police officer held for more than a decade by the FARC, was grateful for the turnout. Trujillo was not among the four recently executed.
"This support is fantstic because we don't feel forgotton," Oliva Solarte told The Associated Press.
The FARC took up arms in 1964 and authorities say they hold at least a dozen police and soldiers.
Colombia's U.S.-backed military has handed the FARC a string of stinging defeats in recent years, including the Nov. 4 killing of the rebel's 63-year-old commander, Alfonso Cano. But the guerrillas have about 9,000 fighters and many analysts believe they cannot be defeated militarily.
President Santos says he won't negotiate with the FARC until it frees all hostages as an initial sign of goodwill.
Colombians, meanwhile, are divided on how to end the long-running conflict. Colombia has the world's second highest internal refugee population, after Sudan.
An opinion poll published Sunday by Semana, Colombia's leading news magazine, found 48 percent of respondents said the FARC should be dealt with militarily and 47 percent favored a negotiated peace.
The poll of 1,009 people had an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.