Guardian Unlimited OnLine July 5 2007
After 114 days in captivity, BBC man celebrates freedom ... with a haircut July 5 2007
Conal Urquhart in Gaza City
The last hour of captivity for Alan Johnston was perhaps the worst. His guard burst into his room in the early hours of yesterday morning and told him to get dressed. His regular captor, "an extraordinarily moody man with dark rages", had been joined by some new gunmen who looked "totally wired".
"I thought, this is bad news," said Johnston, who, on his first day of freedom yesterday gave a remarkable account of his 114 days of captivity in Gaza, an experience which he likened to being "buried alive". The BBC journalist, who looked tired but ebullient, was freed just after 3am local time following intense negotiations between Hamas and his kidnappers, the Dogmush family and their militia, the Army of Islam.
"The last 16 weeks were by far the worst days of my life," Johnston, 45, said. "It was like being buried alive, removed from the world. It was occasionally terrifying, with people who were both unpredictable and dangerous." His first act on being freed was to call his parents. He also asked for a razor - to get rid of that "just kidnapped look" - and a grilled steak.
He said being free was "fantastic". "You want to do everything at the same time, to read books and newspapers, go to the movies, go to the beach and sit in the sun, and eat and talk."
The road to freedom had begun when his guard and the new gunmen took him to a car for what was to be "the most appalling ride of my life". The guards were hysterical and swore at each other as they drove through Gaza City. They were petrified of leaving their stronghold and crossing the Hamas checkpoints which have become a part of life in Gaza. They took their anger out on Johnston, slapping him and banging his head against the car door, the first acts of physical violence he had endured since being kidnapped.
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Times OnLine July 5 2007
Forgotten hostages July 5 2007
Sonia Verma in Jerusalem, Deborah Haynes in Baghdad and Philip Webster
Watch video of Alan Johnston being released
Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist freed by his Gaza captors after a worldwide publicity campaign, interrupted his celebrations yesterday to remember five British hostages whose plight has gone almost entirely unreported since they were kidnapped in Baghdad 38 days ago.
While the BBC organised vigils, demonstrations and petitions to keep Johnstonís case firmly in the headlines, the Government has imposed a virtual news blackout on the Baghdad kidnappings, refusing to disclose even the names or ages of the hostages.
Sir Menzies Campbell, leader of the Liberal Democrats, questioned that strategy last night, saying: ďThe lesson from Alan Johnstonís very remarkable and very welcome release is that it shows how important it can be to make sure that hostagesí names are not forgotten and stay in the news.Ē
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Independent OnLine 'Indy' News July 5 2007
In his own words: Alan Johnston on his release July 5 2007
'You have to have been a prisoner to know how good freedom is'
The past 16 weeks were just the very worst that you can imagine of my life, like being buried alive, removed from the world.
Sixteen weeks of solitary confinement with difficult, unpredictable people who did talk occasionally about killing me. It was hard to see how it would end.
It became almost hard to imagine normal life again. I literally dreamt many times of being free, and always woke up back in that room.
The great fear is the fear of being forgotten... It's a battle to keep your mind in the right place. You've got to believe somehow, some day, some way, it's going to end. You will not grow old there.
They were often rude and unpleasant. They did threaten my life a number of times. There was one 24-hour period when they seemed to get very angry and chained me up but that only lasted 24 hours. They were even occasionally friendly. One of the guards would let me go through and watch his television. But it was very grim.
On Tuesday night, when they took me downstairs and said you're going to Britain, they had actually said that once before when they moved me to another prison, so I was really fighting the desire to believe that it was all about to end.
And even when I was in the car, I thought at first 'They are just moving me again'. Suddenly the car screeches to a halt, they drag me out and sling me towards more gunmen.
But then I recognised one photographer and I thought, this looks better. And then round the corner there's my old friend who I'd worked with for three years. And it was over. And it was the most extraordinary moment of my life, as they say in journalism.
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BBC OnLine News July 5 2007
Bank expected to raise UK rates July 5 2007
The Bank of England is expected to raise UK interest rates from 5.5% to 5.75% later, as it resumes efforts to reduce inflation.
Most economists predict the rise after Bank governor Mervyn King said recently that inflation remained a concern.
They also point to the fact that while rates were kept level in June, four of the nine members of the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee voted for a rise.
However, a minority of analysts do feel rates may remain on hold for July.
These economists point out that while the most recent figures showed that inflation remained above the government's 2% target, it did actually slow to 2.5% in May from 2.8% in April.
A rise in interest rates from 5.5% to 5.75% would put an extra £16 a month on an average £100,000 repayment mortgage, but it would be good news for savers, who should receive more for their investments.
Mixed housing signals
There is also some dispute about the ongoing strength of the housing market.
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BBC OnLine History July 5 2007
July 5 1981: Police attacked in Liverpool riots
Up to 30 police officers have been injured by flying missiles as rioters took to the streets of Toxteth, Liverpool.
Latest reports suggest that nearly 200 white and black youths have been attacking police, cars and shops with petrol bombs and bricks.
They have staged pitched battles with officers on Upper Parliament Street and Lodge Lane, charging at them with milk floats.
At one stage police in riot gear were forced to retreat as angry mobs hurled bits of scaffolding, bricks and petrol bombs.
At least four buildings were set alight, one collapsed and there was a pall of smoke hanging over Upper Parliament St.
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