|Afghan asylum seekers in court after hunger strike|
|23. May 2006, 01:08|
By Owen Bowcott, The Guardian
More than 30 Afghan asylum seekers appeared in court yesterday after Dublin police broke up a mass hunger strike inside St Patrick's Cathedral at the weekend. The men - along with eight Afghan juveniles - had threatened to kill themselves if denied permission to stay in Ireland. No one was injured.
The protest, which lasted nearly a week, strained public sympathy in a country that has traditionally shown compassion towards refugees. Several of the men were reported to have been former Taliban leaders; none had been served with a deportation order.
Teenage protesters distributed mobile phone photographs to supporters outside the cathedral picturing themselves with red nooses around their necks. Claims that some were prepared to leap from a 20-metre-high (66ft) organ loft if officers approached alarmed the authorities.
Church of Ireland negotiators, led by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Rev John Neill, reached an agreement with the hunger strikers allowing them to leave the cathedral but they withdrew after the department of justice rejected the deal. Several were treated in hospital but later tried to re-enter the cathedral. They were turned back by Garda officers.
Officers finally removed all the protesters late on Saturday night. The 33 men were taken before a special sitting of Bridewell district court in the early hours of Sunday where they were charged with breaking Ireland's forcible entry and occupation act.
The eight Afghan youths were placed in state care. They have not been charged with any crime.
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