Thursday, March 10, 2005

'Iranian' passengers block plane at Brussels airport

Middle East News (AFP):

Belgian authorities were negotiating with several dozen passengers who have refused to leave a German airliner in what appeared to be a protest against the EU's conciliatory policies towards Iran.

A Boeing plane of German Lufthansa is parked alongside Pier A at Brussels National airport.

The negotiations, led by the foreign ministry, were taking place in a "calm atmosphere", a ministry spokesman said. read more

Earlier a correspondent for ZDF German television who spoke with one of the passengers by telephone said he had been told that no arms were aboard the plane and that no hostages were being held.

The reporter said he was informed that there were 73 people aboard the Lufthansa plane, which had arrived from Frankfurt, but a Belgian police spokesman said there were 59 people of various nationalities.

"It is a small group who don't want to come off. The other passengers were able to leave calmly and are inside the airport, unharmed," said Wencke Lemmes, a spokesman for Lufthansa in Belgium Belgium.

The situation was calm, and federal police officers were on board the aircraft negotiating with those inside, said police and the airline.

The remaining passengers "all have passports from the European Union," but "they say they are of Iranian origin," said federal police spokesman Els Cleemput.

"We don't know the nationalities (of the passengers still on board) and we don't know for the moment what they are demanding," she said, adding that they had given police a document of about 20 pages containing their demands.

She denied rumors that some of those on board had begun a hunger strike.

A young Iranian based in Brussels who identified himself as Ramin and said he was speaking on behalf of the passengers, said the action had been under preparation for five months by a London-based Iranian monarchist group, "Azarakhsh".

"We all ask the leaders of the European Union (not to) support the regime in Iran. We don't ask nobody, no country, nor any power in the world to help us to change the regime. We can do it ourselves," he said.

But the RTL-TVI television station said they were "political demands" linked notably to the European Union's policies with regard to Iran.

"Contacts are under way between foreign ministry and the people on board," said a ministry spokesman.

The TV station said the atmosphere was relaxed, and meals had been offered to those still on board.

The German magazine Der Spiegel said it had received a letter from the group, described as Iranian men and women protesting against a Tehran regime responsible for "torture and terror."

In Berlin, a Lufthansa spokesman said the protest "had nothing to do with our company.

"They have chosen without a doubt a strange place to demonstrate," said the spokesman, Thomas Ellerbeck

He said the plane was carrying 120 passengers, all of whom except the demonstrators had left the plane.

Television images showed two police cars next to the aircraft, which was parked at a gate at Brussels' Zaventem airport. Air traffic was not disrupted by the situation.
It will be interesting to see how the European press handles this demonstration against the Iranian regime.

I was told that the group that organized the demonstration is associated with an Iranian satellite broadcaster who has been the target of an Iranian Fatwa.