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A mother's pleas as Japan hostage deadline passes

The deadline has now passed for the payment of $200mn ransom for two Japanese hostages held by Islamic State militants
Japanese hostage's mother Junko Ishido holds a press conference in Tokyo (AA)
Fears for the lives of two Japanese men being held by Islamic State militants are high on Friday as the deadline set by their captors has now passed. The mother of one of the men has urged the Tokyo government to pay the IS militants' $200 million ransom demand and pleaded that her son's life be spared.
 
Even as the hostage taker's deadline passed, there was no news from the prime minister's office on the fate of Kenji Goto, a freelance journalist, or Haruna Yukawa, the self-employed contractor whose release Goto had gone to try to help secure.
 
Reporters waiting for any announcement on the two men's fate said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looked tired and drawn as he rushed from one committment to the next.
 
The 72-hour deadline militants had set expired at 2.50pm (0550 GMT) on Friday.
 
Hours earlier, Junko Ishido launched an emotional appeal for mercy for Goto, her son.
 
"I say to you people of the Islamic State, Kenji is not your enemy. Please release him," she said.
 
"Kenji was always saying 'I hope to save lives of children on battlefields.' He was reporting war from a neutral position."
 
The high drama in Tokyo comes three days after the sudden release by the IS group of a video in which Goto and Yukawa, apparently kneeling in the desert, are threatened with execution by a British-accented man.
 
"You now have 72 hours to pressure your government into making a wise decision by paying the $200 million to save the lives of your citizens," he said.
 
The militants linked the ransom to the amount of cash Abe said he would be earmarking to help countries dealing with the influx of refugees fleeing fighting between IS and regular forces.
 
Asked by a journalist if she thinks Tokyo should pay the ransom, as it has in previous hostage situations, Ishido said: "Yes, I very much hope so. Japan has maintained a friendly relationship with Islamic nations. The time remaining is scarce. I beg you Japanese government officials, please save Kenji's life."
 
'Gentle heart'
 
Ishido, who was identified as Goto's birth mother, said she had learned Thursday that Goto's wife had given birth two weeks ago when the two spoke on the telephone for the first time since his capture.
 
"Kenji left for the IS with a gentle heart hoping to save a life of his Japanese colleague," she said, referring to reports that Goto had been on a mercy mission to rescue Yukawa.
 
"He didn't care about his safety because he believed he and people of IS would be able to understand each other, as members of the global community."
 
She also said she has had no contact at all with the Japanese government since video of Goto and Yukawa emerged on Tuesday.
 
A spokesman told AFP the administration was in close contact with the families of the missing men, but refused to elaborate.
 
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Friday morning that the government was still making every effort to secure the hostages' release.
 
"We have received offers of cooperation from various countries," he said. "We are continuing to analyse information".
 
Asked whether Japan would pay the ransom, Kishida demurred.
 
"We will not give in to terrorism. We will fight against terrorism in cooperation with other countries," he said.
 
NHK reported early Friday it had a text and audio exchange with a "public relations" official from IS.
 
The representative was quoted as saying: "Japanese are infidels fighting against Islamic State."
 
Asked about the Japanese efforts to negotiate the release of the two hostages, he said: "We cannot answer that because it isn't a good question.
 
"A statement will come out sometime later," he said, without giving further details.
 
The Japanese media has rallied around Goto, a respected and experienced war reporter whose work has appeared on domestic television channels.
 
In video footage he filmed around the time he entered Syria, he holds identification papers and his Japanese passport and explains that he is aware of the risks.
 
"Whatever happens, I am the one who is responsible," he says. "I am asking you, Japanese people, do not place responsibility on the people of Syria. Please. I am sure I will come back alive though."
 
The IS group has previously killed three Americans and two Britons after parading them on camera, but this is the first time Japanese citizens have been threatened, and the first time a ransom demand has been made in this way.
 
The US and the UK continue to refuse to pay ransom for hostages and British journalist John Cantlie is still being held by IS.