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Last Updated: Monday, 30 April 2007, 21:39 GMT 22:39 UK
Missing BBC man 'alive', MEPs say
Alan Johnston
Alan Johnston has been held captive for seven weeks
Members of the European Parliament have been told by Palestinian leaders that the kidnapped BBC correspondent, Alan Johnston, is alive.

A 12-member delegation of MEPs were given the assurances in a meeting with Palestinian Deputy PM Azzam al-Ahmad in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Mr Azzam also told them the Palestinian security services knew what they had to do to secure the reporter's release.

Mr Johnston was seized at gunpoint in Gaza City on 12 March.

Speaking to MEPs, Mr Azzam said the Palestinian security services knew what they had to do to secure the reporter's release.

There has been no direct information on his fate.

Vigils are held by his colleagues and friends in London every Monday to keep his disappearance in the public eye.

Foreign journalists based in Thailand are also due to gather in the capital, Bangkok, for an event in support.

Later this week, similar events are expected to take place in two other Asian capitals, Beijing and Jakarta.

On Monday evening, an image of Mr Johnston's face was projected on the outside wall of BBC Television Centre in west London.

'Political priority'

The one-hour meeting between the European lawmakers and Mr Azzam had originally been organised to discuss EU funding for the Palestinian Authority.

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

But, the MEPs said they had instead discussed the plight of Mr Johnston at length.

One of the delegates, British MEP Caroline Lucas, told the BBC they had sought assurances from the Palestinian representatives.

"We can only go on what we're being told, but certainly it seems to be a very high political priority for them," she said.

"I think they recognise, as we all do, that it's doing the Palestinian Authority absolutely no good at all to have Alan Johnston still in captivity."

"They do appear to be doing all they can, and we seem to be getting confirmation that he's alive, so I think all we can do is to keep the political pressure high."

On Thursday, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for the Palestinian authorities to redouble efforts to secure Mr Johnston's immediate release.

Image of Alan Johnston projected on to the outside of BBC Television Centre
Mr Johnston has worked for the BBC for more than 15 years

Later on Monday, during a press conference, Mr Azzam said the kidnappers had made new demands over the phone on Monday.

He said all of these demands had been refused.

"It seems the abductors feel they are in real trouble," Mr Azzam said.

"Their demands change from time to time. From our side, all the demands that were presented were rejected."

He said that talks with the kidnappers were at a sensitive stage as Mr Johnston approached his 50th night in captivity.

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.

Earlier this month, a previously unknown militant group said it had killed the correspondent, but the BBC and Palestinian officials said they were unable to verify the claim.

A BBC News website petition has now registered more than 61,000 names in support of Mr Johnston.


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