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LIVE: A Special Birthday Edition For Alan

Mark Sandell Mark Sandell | 17:56 UK time, Thursday, 17 May 2007

It's Alex here, blogging a very special World Have Your Say programme to mark Alan Johnston's 45th birthday. Anu Anand and Puja Kapoor are in the studio.

We will mark Alan's birthday with a series of messages from writers all over the world. We will- hopefully- through the voices of some Gaza residents, shed some light on the situation there. The story Alan would of course be bringing you, if he was allowed.

We'll go to Ghana to find out how Ros and the team are preparing for their show from Accra tomorrow, and we'll catch up on the opinions being expressed about Prince Harry who is now not going to serve in Iraq.

First - we hear from Alan's parents, and the cream of the world's most distinguished writers as they give their personal birthday messages to Alan:

Tom Stoppard... the poet Wendy Cope... Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections... Michael Frayn, celebrated writer and playwright... Charles Glass the legendary journalist and writer...and Alexander McCall Smith, author of the much-loved Number One Ladies Detective Agency series... and Irish author Brian Keenan, who was himself held hostage in Lebanon for five years: "even if they take your liberty, they can never take your freedom. We're all waiting, and will never walk away. Happy Birthday Alan."

We talk to three Palestinians: Hatem, who works for an aid agency, Ismail Rabah, a journalist, and Dr Khamis Elessi, a doctor. All of them live in Gaza.

Hatem says "the situation is shameful, it's tragic that Palestinians are killing each other - when I went out to get some food just now, there were gunmen in the street."

Ismail says "people can't even leave their homes because the situation is so serious."

Dr Elessi treats people who have head injuries and says he's seeing lots of patients with such injuries. He says "you can't trust your kids to go to school, or go on outings with your family, because you're afraid of the violence. The ceasefire was fragile, but compared to this, it was heaven".

More birthday messages:

Jonathan Safran Foer, novelist from New York.... Bill Bryson, UK-based comic writer... Monica Ali, author of the novel 'Brick Lane'... Philip Pullman, children's author, speaking from Oxford... Brazilian writer Paulo Coehlo... and AS Byatt, one of Britain's best-known post-modern novelists: "if he is able to hear this, I send him my very best wishes and hope this all comes to an end soon."

After the news, we talk to Ros Atkins, our roving presenter who's touring Africa. He gives us a live update on what we can look forward to from tomorrow's show in Accra.

Anu asks: Are some lives worth more than others? Prince Harry has been told he cannot go to Iraq. This comes a month after the head of the British Army, said he was going to let him go. What does this say about our attitude to war and bloodshed today? Do the enemy understand the propaganda war better than we do? If Harry's life is too valuable then what does that say about attitudes to those currently serving . . .

Reg, who lost his son in Iraq in 2003, says "I can understand why the decision was made, but frankly, if it's too dangerous for Harry in Iraq, it's too dangerous for everyone to be in Iraq."

Nick, an ex-Army officer who served in Iraq in 2003, says it's the right decision: "Harry would be a bullet magnet. I feel sorry for the guy. Harry's stood up and said he wants to go, and he should be immensely proud of that. He hasn't lost any credibility."

Ali in Basra says "the situation in Basra is so dangerous, that it's the best thing if Harry doesn't go."

Eric in Iraq, author of the military blog Badgers Forward, says: "the insurgents look for any chance to strike, and there's no doubt that Harry would be a high profile target. But unless Harry's driving around in a vehicle with "His Royal Highness" emblazoned on it, they would have to have pretty good intelligence to find out where he was."

Teresa in London says "the people with Harry would be targets. He would be endangering those around him."

Terry in North Carolina, USA, says "the situation is different from the Falklands War twenty-five years ago. Harry would be too high-value a target, not just to kill, but to capture and hold. "

Before we go, more birthday messages for Alan Johnston...

Harold Pinter... "I pray that common sense and sanity will prevail."...Gamal el Ghitani, the Egyptian novelist and journalist...."I am ashamed, because your captors are Arabs. I hope to see you in freedom very quickly"....Booker Prize-winning novelist John Banville..."I wish you the strength, perseverance and patience that you will need"...poet Linton Kwesi Johnson... "I am rooting for you"....playwright David Hare...."Happy Birthday Alan."

And from British crime writer Ian Rankin..."it's time that he was set free... stick in there, and let's see you free sooner rather than later."

We sign off with a message again from Brian Keenan, who wrote "An Evil Cradling" after his experience of being held for 5 years, often in dark underground cells.

"Sometimes our birthdays find us in the strangest of places. And I know how strange that place can be. Know you are not alone. Hundreds of thousands of strangers are lighting birthday candles for you."

Ann emails:
It is my opinion that it is not too dangerous for Prince Harry to go to Iraq but I would not like my son to be anywhere near Harry in Iraq. Harry will make anyone around him a larger target. I do not believe it is for Harry's sake that he isn't going; I think it is for the other soldiers around him that he isn't going.


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