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Daily Archives: June 20, 2007

BBC man marks 100 days in Gaza captivity

 Image by Adel Zaanoun*

Award-winning BBC journalist Alan Johnston marks 100 days in the captivity of Palestinian extremists in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday as colleagues hold vigils for his release around the world.
The 45-year-old British reporter's parents, Graham and Margaret, were to be joined by villagers at their home in Scotland to release 100 balloons at 2:15 pm (1315 GMT) — the exact time he was snatched at gunpoint on March 12.
Johnston's colleagues at the BBC were also to hold a vigil, with offices in Washington, New York, Brussels, Jerusalem and Kabul taking part to mark his unprecedented ordeal as a Western hostage in Gaza.

"On the 100th day, we are more steadfast in our support for Alan than ever and our thoughts are always with his family," said the director of BBC News, Helen Boaden, on the eve of the landmark date.
Johnston, the last Western journalist based permanently in Gaza when he was abducted, has been held for far longer than any other Western hostage in the territory.
There has been no word on his condition since the radical fringe group claiming his abduction released an undated video on June 1, showing a pale Johnston reassuring watchers that he had been well treated and well fed.
The Islamist movement Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since last week after routing Palestinian security forces in deadly battles, says it is working intensively to secure his release but his fate remains as uncertain as ever.
"When it comes to Alan Johnston we are multiplying efforts to secure his release, and we hope they will succeed and that he will be released in the coming days," senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya told a news conference.
"We want to reassure everyone that Hamas is working seriously for Johnston's release. Intense efforts are being made around the clock because we are determined to succeed," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri added.
But a Monday deadline that the movement told the BBC it had imposed on his Army of Islam captors to respond to demands to release him, passed unnoticed on the heels of a grisly threat to kill the reporter.
"If we do not reach an agreement and the situation worsens for us, we will have to turn to God and have no choice but to slit the throat of the journalist," a masked spokesman for the Army of Islam said on Sunday.
The group is demanding the release of a Palestinian-born cleric, once labelled Al-Qaeda's spiritual leader in Europe, Abu Qatada, who is being held in Britain.
Johnston's plight, after he was abducted while driving home from work, has sparked rallies and messages of support from all over the world and an online petition calling for his release has been signed by more than 170,000 people.


Death row medics launch last-ditch appeal in Libya

 Image Six foreign medics sentenced to death for infecting Libyan children with the AIDS virus launched their final appeal yesterday, after more than eight years behind bars for a crime they say they did not commit.
As the hearing opened, relatives of the victims rallied outside the Tripoli courtroom, holding up pictures of their infected children, many of who have died.
Libya's supreme court is expected to uphold the death penalty against the five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor, but the verdict is expected to pave the way for a compensation package and for the sentences to be commuted.

However, a verdict is not expected on Wednesday.
Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi's son, Seif al-Islam, has said he expected compensation for the infected childrens' families to be worked out between the Bulgarian government and the European Union.
"Immediately after the verdict, we will begin to work… on a package (of measures) with a view to a solution," Islam told Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper.
Libyan sources close to the case said that provided the package was agreed, a final decision on the medics' fate could be reached by the end of the week.
The medics were first arrested in February 1999 and were sentenced to death in May 2004 after being convicted of infecting 438 children with HIV-tainted blood at a hospital in the Mediterranean city of Benghazi.
Fifty-six children have since died.
The accused have denied the charges and foreign health experts have said the AIDS epidemic in Benghazi, Libya's second city, was probably the result of poor hygiene.
The case has sparked mounting criticism from the European Union and the United States and hindered Libya's efforts at rapprochment with the West after Kadhafi's regime renounced efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction in December 2003.
US President George W. Bush appealed for the release of the medics last week during a visit to Bulgaria.
"They should be released and they should be allowed to return to their families. We will continue to make clear to Libya that the release of these nurses is a higher priority" for Bulgaria, Bush said.
A date for the final appeal hearing was only decided after senior EU diplomats including External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner visited Libya earlier this month.
Othman al-Bizanti, a Libyan lawyer for the medics, has said he will ask for an adjournment on Wednesday as he has not had enough time to prepare a defence.
Journalists covering the hearing are being kept in a separate room, where images from the court are being transmitted but showing only the four judges.
The five nurses — Kristiana Valcheva, Nasya Nenova, Valya Cherveniashka, Valentina Siropulo, and Snezhana Dimitrova — and the Palestinian doctor, Ashraf Juma Hajuj, are said to have suffered depression and other mental stress during their lengthy wait on death row.
Sofia on Tuesday said it had granted Hajuj Bulgarian citizenship as it would allow his extradition to Bulgaria together with the nurses in the event of a favourable outcome of their case.
Kadhafi's son said any compensation for the victims would include medical assistance for the infected children and EU financing of a Libyan national action plan against AIDS.
The relatives initially asked for compensation of 10 million euros (about 13 million dollars) for each victim, saying however that the amount was negotiable.