21 May 2006

Irish police end Afghans' protest


Afghan asylum seekers on hunger strike in a Dublin cathedral have been removed from the building by Irish police following a seven-day stand-off.

An estimated 41 men and youths took part in the protest. Seven minors were taken into the care of the health service and the adults were arrested.

The police surrounded St Patrick's cathedral on Friday and told the Afghans that they had to leave.

Earlier, talks to end the hunger strike had reached an impasse.

Campaigners said the men did not leave voluntarily but did not resist.

The Associated Press news agency said that police took out the youngest members first, then could be seen escorting out adult protesters.

Some were carried out on stretchers, apparently exhausted after a week of refusing food and, in some cases, water.

The men, who began their protest last Sunday, had vowed to starve themselves to death unless they were allowed to stay in Ireland, claiming they feared being tortured in their homeland.

Church of Ireland staff had agreed a set of proposals acceptable to the protestors but these were rejected by the Department of Justice, they said.

Drinking water

The Archbishop of Dublin, the Rev John Neill, said: "We had arrived at a set of proposals which were acceptable to the asylum seekers which offered a fair and equitable way forward for all parties.

"Unfortunately this view was not shared by the Department of Justice."

Two of the men who were taken to hospital on Friday tried to return to the cathedral on Saturday, but were turned away by Irish police.

Some of the men were said to have tied ropes around their necks and threatened to jump from the organ loft.

Some were hospitalised earlier this week with one reported to be critically ill, suffering from severe dehydration.

Attempted suicide

The men had agreed to drink some water after a meeting with government officials was granted.

"I understand there are ropes tied around their necks in a dramatic fashion. I also understand that they have knives or they certainly claim to have knives," a Church of Ireland official told the AFP news agency.

Rosanna Flynn, of campaign group Residents Against Racism, claimed some of the children inside the cathedral had attempted suicide during Thursday night.

The Irish government had refused to negotiate on the men's asylum claims. It said it would not concede to the demands on the grounds that it would set a dangerous precedent and would be unfair to those who seek to win refugee status through proper legal channels.

Taliban denials

Earlier the cathedral's Church of Ireland leaders announced that the government had rejected a church-brokered compromise deal.

The Afghans had said they would scrap their protest if an international body reviewed their applications.

Supporters of the men hung a banner on railings outside the cathedral, stating: "No-one is illegal."

Irish Justice Minister Michael McDowell urged the men to stop the protest but said he would not negotiate with them.

He said the men had not yet exhausted the asylum appeals process.

The Afghans said they were from a mixture of ethnic and political backgrounds and have denied that any of them were Taliban members.

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