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BBC users urge reporter's release

5 April 07 22:42 GMT

BBC News website users have written in their thousands to demand the release of BBC Gaza reporter Alan Johnston.

More than 8,000 people have responded to a BBC online appeal, which closed at 2300BST (2200GMT) on Thursday.

A Palestinian parliament session was called off when reporters blocked entrance in protest at perceived government inaction about Mr Johnston.

Mr Johnston disappeared on 12 March and is feared kidnapped, although there has been no claim of responsibility.

Reports said there were scuffles outside the parliament building in Gaza as security personnel attempted to move the journalists aside. Protesters also gathered at the parliament building in Ramallah, in the West Bank.

Palestinian journalists have been on strike, boycotting government business, to pressure it to do more to secure the release of Mr Johnston.

He is believed to be the only western journalist still working full-time in the Gaza Strip, following a wave of kidnappings last year. His disappearance has lasted longer than any previous abduction.

Reassuring voice

The BBC online petition was started on Monday, the day a newspaper advert was published urging his release backed by hundreds of colleagues and media personalities.

The petition said: "We, the undersigned, demand the immediate release of BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston.

"We ask again that everyone with influence on this situation increase their efforts, to ensure that Alan is freed quickly and unharmed."

BBC Interactivity assistant editor Matthew Eltringham said: "There has been a hugely positive response to our petition, and a strong message in support of Alan, with people emailing from all over the world."

Website users took the opportunity to send messages of support for the missing correspondent.

"I remember Alan best by his calm and very reassuring voice over the air from half a world away," wrote CY Lim, of Singapore.

"Nothing good will come from the continued detention of Alan. Please release him."

Senior BBC colleagues of Mr Johnston appealed to Palestinian leaders including the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniya.

Both have said everything possible is being done to free Mr Johnston.

The BBC described him as a highly experienced and respected reporter.

He 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.

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