Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima demanded Saturday that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi resign over the kidnapping of three Japanese citizens in Iraq.

Fukushima made the demand in an opening address to a special party convention at SDP headquarters in Tokyo.

Fukushima said Koizumi should take responsibility for the hostage incident and resign. She also demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Self-Defense Forces from Iraq, as demanded by the kidnappers.

A previously unknown militant group calling itself Saraya al-Mujahideen seized the three people — Noriaki Imai, 18, Soichiro Koriyama, 32, and Nahoko Takato, 34 — while they were traveling overland from Amman to Baghdad and threatened to kill them unless Japan withdraws its troops from Iraq.

Koizumi has clearly stated he is not withdrawing the more than 500 troops engaged in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in the southern city of Samawah.

The three Japanese were among more than a dozen foreign civilians seized in Iraq in the past week.

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