updated 4/29/2004 11:08:58 AM ET 2004-04-29T15:08:58

Hundreds of people from across Italy gathered Thursday for a peace march demanded by kidnappers of three Italians in Iraq.

The march, near St. Peter’s Square, has been promoted by the families of the captives, who have been threatened with death unless Italians stage a “huge demonstration” in Rome to denounce the government’s involvement in Iraq.

“I don’t think that Italy will leave three boys like this to die,” Angelo Stefio, the father of one of the hostages, told private TV news Tg5. “If we do not do this, perhaps it might be too late.”

Stefio and other relatives have been calling for a big turnout. Earlier Thursday, they left their hometowns on buses full of relatives and supporters and arrived in the capital.

Anti-war protesters, volunteer associations and others started gathering in Rome to join the demonstration, which is scheduled to start from Castle Sant’Angelo, a landmark near the Vatican, and move close to the St. Peter’s, which is traditionally closed to all nonreligious events.

The three Italians, who were in Iraq to work as security guards, were abducted April 12. A fourth hostage who was taken with them was later killed.

On Monday, Arab TV channel Al-Arabiya showed a video of the three hostages, apparently in good health, and a message by the kidnappers demanding a demonstration in Rome to denounce the Italian government’s pro-U.S. stance.

Relatives have stressed the march is a peace rally, and not a protest of Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s policies.

Italy has sent about 3,000 troops to Iraq to help reconstruction in the country.

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