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Religious leaders in hostage plea

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LIVERPOOL, England (CNN) -- Muslim and Christian religious leaders in the hometown of a British hostage facing death in Iraq have appealed for his captors to free him.

"In the name of God, the merciful one, we as Muslim and Christian leaders in Liverpool appeal to you as believers to have mercy on Kenneth Bigley," said Akbar Ali, the chairman of Liverpool Mosque and Islamic Institute.

Joining Ali at the news conference on Thursday was James Jones, Liverpool's Anglican Bishop.

"We're appealing to them on the grounds of their own faith and their own faith in the God of mercy to be merciful, to have compassion in this situation and to release Mr. Bigley," Jones said.

Asked if he believed the kidnappers were capable of showing mercy, Ali said: "There is a spark of mercy in everyone's heart.

"If we didn't have hope, life would be intolerable. We live in hope and we are hoping and praying that God Almighty will intervene in his own way."

The bishop said: "While Mr. Bigley remains alive, there is hope. That is why we are appealing for his captors to show compassion and we are appealing for people to be prayerful for both Ken Bigley and for his captors, that they show compassion."

Bigley's wife, who lives in Thailand, also begged the captors to release her husband.

"My husband, Ken, is an ordinary, hardworking family man who wanted to help the people of Iraq amongst whom he has made many friends," Sombat Bigley said, according to a translation from The Associated Press.

"As a loving wife, I beg you once more for mercy."

Cherie Blair, wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair also addressed the crisis, saying "like the rest of Britain, my heart goes out to the Bigley family," according to a spokesman.

CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley said opposition political parties in Britain backed UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's government's refusal to bow to the hostage-takers' demands.

"These situations are always incredibly difficult for prime ministers and government, but so far there's been no public outcry against Blair for refusing to deal with terrorists," said Oakley.

Bigley, 62, was abducted last Thursday along with two Americans from their Baghdad residence. The three men were in Iraq working on reconstruction projects for the Middle Eastern company, Gulf Supplies and Commercial Services.

The two Americans were beheaded Monday and Tuesday.

Bigley's captors said he would face the same fate unless the British government met their demand to release Muslim women from Iraqi prisons.

U.S. officials said the only women currently held in Iraq are the two "high value detainees" -- both held at Camp Cropper near the Baghdad airport, according to Iraqi sources.

The interim Iraqi government Thursday reiterated it had no imminent plans to release any detainees -- as have officials in Washington.

Bigley's brother on Thursday has criticized the U.S. government, saying the initial report that the Iraqi prisoners would be released was "a shadow of light in a big, long, dark, damp, filthy, cold tunnel."

"Now this has been sabotaged." Mr Bigley told BBC radio on Thursday. (Full story)

But the religious leaders in Liverpool supported the British government in its refusal to negotiate with terrorists.

The bishop said: "Whatever you think of his politics, the prime minister is a compassionate person so he clearly will be affected by these appeals (of Kenneth Bigley and his family) but the government has constraints. It is impossible to negotiate with hostage-takers.

"But we in Britain do need to understand how our actions in the Middle East are seen and felt by the Arab world.

"I hope in the future we will be far more aware of how our actions are seen by other people."

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