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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 14:41 GMT 15:41 UK
Archbishop prays for BBC Gaza man
Archbishop of York John Sentamu
Dr Sentamu praised Mr Johnston's as a "voice of sanity"
The second most senior cleric in the Church of England has held a prayer vigil for BBC reporter Alan Johnston, who has been abducted in Gaza.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu said his heart had been heavy since he learned Mr Johnston had disappeared.

The reporter was seized at gunpoint in Gaza City on 12 March.

A Palestinian militant group has said it has killed Mr Johnston. The BBC says it is "highly concerned" but has had no independent verification of the claim.

Peace 'the way'

Dr Sentamu said during Mr Johnston's three years of reporting from Gaza, his was "the one voice of sanity who was purely telling the story".

ALAN JOHNSTON
Palestinian protesters in Nablus
Born in Lindi, Tanzania, on 17 May 1962
BBC Kabul correspondent from 1997 to 1998
BBC Gaza correspondent from April 2004

The archbishop said when he heard Mr Johnston has been abducted, "my heart became very heavy and has been heavy ever since".

He said the freedom of the media was "absolutely critical" , adding that whenever the freedom of the press didn't exist, "dictators love it".

Addressing congregants in the chapel of Bishopthorpe Palace, his official residence in York, Dr Sentamu said the Middle East was "a place of conflict... a place of need and want".

Appealing for an end to violence in the region, the archbishop prayed that "those who use knives and guns realise that the way of peace is the best way".

On Sunday, a previously unknown group, the Tawhid and Jihad brigades, claimed it had killed Mr Johnston, 44, but this could not be independently verified.

Mr Johnston, from Scotland, joined the BBC World Service in 1991 and has spent eight of the last 16 years as a correspondent, including periods in Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

He has lived and worked in Gaza for three years and was the only Western reporter permanently based in the often violent and lawless territory.

His posting in Gaza had been due to end in late March.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Journalists gather in support of Alan Johnston



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