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Siege at St Patrick's Cathedral has ended

THE St Patrick's Cathedral siege ended peacefully last night - when gardai moved in and removed the remaining asylum seekers. A day after police surrounded the cathedral and told the Afghans they must come out, officers entered the 13th-century building and took everyone away.

JODY CORCORAN, TIM HEALY and LARA BRADLEY

THE St Patrick's Cathedral siege ended peacefully last night - when gardai moved in and removed the remaining asylum seekers.

A day after police surrounded the cathedral and told the Afghans they must come out, officers entered the 13th-century building and took everyone away.

Gardai took out the youngest members first, they then escorted the adult hunger strikers out. Some were carried out on stretchers, apparently exhausted after a week of refusing food and, in some cases, water. Others walked out, flanked by gardai.

Local supporters of the Afghans, who had maintained a vigil outside the cathedral over the past week, said they had received text messages from protesters stating they would not resist arrest.

The adults were last night charged with forcible entry, while the seven juveniles were being looked after by the Health Service Executive, which had obtained orders making them wards of court.

Negotiator Phil Flynn, who was at the scene last night, said there were "absolutely no conditions" attached to their removal.

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

"We had arrived at a set of proposals which were acceptable to the asylum seekers and which we felt offered a fair and equitable way forward for all parties.

"Unfortunately, this view was not shared by the Department of Justice," said the statement from Archbishops Robin Eames and John Neill and the Dean of St Patrick's, Robert McCarthy.

Meanwhile, it has been learned that one of the asylum seekers has told the authorities here that he raped and killed when he was a member of the Taliban senior command.

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He is understood to have stated on his written application for asylum that he raped several women and was involved in several killings. This has been put forward by the man as a reason why he is fearful of returning toAfghanistan.

A second member of the group has also admitted to having an operational role as a senior commander of the Taliban.

He has admitted to having an "association" with the former Afghan security services, which were involved in the interrogation and torture of many people.

But other members of the group were opposed to the Taliban and in some cases suffered at the hands of thatrepressive regime.

For example, Osman Hotak, 23, is the son of a university professor who was shot by the Taliban and is the nephew of a man who was once a Taliban government minister, but later joined the Northern Alliance to oppose them.

The Garda National Immigration Bureau has been in touch with authorities in Afghanistan to try to verify the claims of the hunger strikers that their lives are endangered in their home country.

A Garda source said that contact was made with authorities in Afghanistan last week to find out whether the men's claims are true.

Gardai took over the negotiations with the men yesterday afternoon, in what they took as a sign that they may be willing to end their protest. Gardai had been granted warrants to eject the men but opted for a more conciliatory approach.

None of those who went on hunger strike in the cathedral are subject to deportation orders at the moment, sources linked to the immigration service have confirmed. One of the men, who arrived here in 2000, has already been granted refugee status.

Another man came in 2003, 18 in 2004, 17 in 2005 and four arrived this year. These make up the 41 Afghans who began the protest last Sunday afternoon.

The ultra-conservative fundamentalist Islamic Taliban regime ruled the country with a fearsome hand from 1996 until 2001.

Before the siege ended last night, the tension from the day before had calmed. On Friday, several of the asylum-seekers threatened suicide.

But by lunchtime yesterday, the remaining hunger strikers were already negotiating with Church of Ireland representatives.

At that stage, the Department of Justice refused to accept the deal, saying it would lead to "copy-cat" protests, and asked the church to withdraw from further negotiations. It is understood the gardai, who had their own negotiators in place yesterday, were frustrated in their efforts to resolve the situation by the number of different parties seeking to mediate different deals with the hunger strikers.

Among several conditions the Church of Ireland agreed to was that the men, who came from various hostels around the country, should be re-accommodated together in Dublin. It was also agreed that the men would be individually interviewed today by immigration officials in the presence of a human rights representative of their choice.

The hunger strikers were adamant that this representative was not to be the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' representative in Ireland, Manuel Jordao, who earlier in the week had endorsed the Government position after meeting with them.

The men's decision to "up the ante" with suicide threats is understood to have hardened the Minister for Justice's resolve not to negotiate with them.

The end of the siege seemed to be coming earlier yesterday, after a number of men within the cathedral agreed to take water.

And then there were reports that their leader Sultan Kabirchakari had enjoyed a cheese sandwich and a cup of water at St James's Hospital at 8pm on Friday night, after undergoing medical treatment.

He says he fled his home country to escape persecution by the Taliban.

The 45-year-old blind diabetic sought to return to continue his hunger strike in the early hours of yesterday morning, but was refused access to the cathedral by the gardai.


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