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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 April 2007, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
EU urges Gaza reporter's release
Alan Johnston
Alan Johnston has been held captive for more than six weeks
Lawmakers at the European Parliament have unanimously backed a resolution calling for the immediate release of kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston.

The emergency resolution urged the Palestinian authorities to redouble efforts to free Mr Johnston, who disappeared in Gaza on 12 March.

Labour MEP Richard Howitt called him "the ultimate example of a journalist caught up in his own story".

MEPs will raise the case in the Palestinian territories at the weekend.

Mr Howitt, who tabled the resolution, said that the EU was sending "a strong political signal" in favour of Mr Johnston's release.

Until last year, the EU was the largest single donor to the Palestinian Authority, but it suspended aid after the election of Hamas, which refused to renounce violence and recognise Israel.

Palestinian journalists demonstrate at the Erez checkpoint
Journalists have held several rallies to support Mr Johnston

Palestinian officials are keen to get back in the EU's good books, but they have been left in no doubt about the importance of securing Mr Johnston's release, the BBC's Alix Kroeger in Strasbourg says.

The Arab Media Forum and the International Association of Press Clubs, which have been meeting in the United Arab Emirates, have also called for Mr Johnston's immediate release.

Many at the two-day meeting talked of Alan Johnston as a very fair journalist, admired and loved by many people, the BBC's Gulf correspondent Julia Wheeler reports.

The two organisations have also called for the protection of all journalists working in dangerous places.

Rallies and protests

Since Mr Johnston's abduction there have been widespread protests in the UK, in Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza.

Journalists from Gaza, the Middle East and a range of other countries have backed calls from the BBC and other UK media for his release.

THE EDITORS' BLOG
Editors' blog
A big part of our effort has been to keep the issue in the public eye
Jonathan Baker,
deputy head, BBC Newsgathering

On Wednesday journalists held a rally at the Erez checkpoint, the main crossing point between Israel and the Gaza Strip, to highlight Mr Johnston's plight.

There Jonathan Baker, the BBC's deputy head of newsgathering, said he was making a direct plea to those holding Mr Johnston to release him immediately.

"His only offence has been to expose himself to personal danger because of his strong desire to bring the story of Gaza to the outside world," he said.

Mr Johnston 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.

On Monday Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmad said his office had information that "indicates that Johnston is in good health".

A previously unknown militant group said more than a week ago that it had killed the correspondent, but the BBC and Palestinian officials have said they have been unable to verify the claim.

A BBC News website petition has now registered more than 50,000 names in support of Mr Johnston.




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