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Forty Afghans take over Irish church, threaten suicide in bid for asylum

Published May 20, 2006

DUBLIN, Ireland - Armed with ropes and razors, Afghan asylum-seekers threatened Friday to kill themselves if police try to expel them from a Dublin cathedral where they have mounted a six-day hunger strike.

Mediators, lawyers and human rights activists sought to broker a peaceful solution after police surrounded St. Patrick's Cathedral, determined to end a protest that has shut down a major tourist attraction.

About 40 Afghan asylum-seekers, all men ages 17 to 45, occupied the 13th century landmark Sunday and Monday and said they wouldn't eat until Ireland granted them asylum. The Justice Department insisted they pursue the proper legal channels.

The confrontation intensified Friday after the Irish Health and Safety Executive, which runs Ireland's hospital system, won a judicial order that designated the seven youngest protesters - all 17 and living in Ireland without their parents - "wards of the court" whose well-being must be protected by the state.

The Church of Ireland, an Anglican-affiliated denomination that owns St. Patrick's, said the young protesters' threat to commit suicide was morally unacceptable and said they must leave. The Afghans say they risk torture or death if returned to Afghanistan.

Justice Minister Michael McDowell ruled out making concessions to the Afghans, saying that would set a dangerous precedent and undermine the thousands of other asylum-seekers in Ireland observing the law. He said two protesters already had been granted permission to stay in Ireland.

U.S. military doubts report of Taliban official's capture

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - An Afghan general said Friday that a fighter captured in an operation in Kandahar province Wednesday could be a top rebel leader, but a U.S. military spokesman expressed doubt about the claim.

Gen. Rehmatullah Raufi, head of the Afghan military's southern region, said the detainee could be Mullah Dadullah, a Taliban commander and one of the most trusted associates of Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

But the U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Paul Fitzpatrick, said that after checking with U.S.-led coalition officials, it appeared the detained man was not Dadullah.

[Last modified May 20, 2006, 08:01:38]

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