Police threw me out of Egypt, but it's a badge of honour, insists George Galloway
GEORGE Galloway has been deported from Egypt after plainclothes police officers refused him entry to the Gaza Strip and put him on a plane bound for London.
Respect MP Mr Galloway had spent the past month travelling from London to deliver 198 truckloads of aid and supplies to Gaza in a challenge to Israel's economic blockade of the territory.
But he was declared persona non grata by the Egyptian foreign ministry and forced to return to Britain, arriving at Heathrow Airport at 1pm yesterday.
The supplies made it through to Rafah in Gaza, but when Mr Galloway and his aide Ron McKay arrived at the border between Egypt and Gaza, they were stopped.
The convoy had been held up for two weeks at the border, which has been closed by the Egyptians in a bid to weaken the Islamic militant Hamas government in the Palestinian territory.
On arriving at Heathrow yesterday Mr Galloway remained defiant, saying it was a "badge of honour" to be deported.
"Having crossed the border from Gaza into Egypt my friend and I were bundled into a car, 25 officers, accepting no dissuasion, drove us straight to the airport, basically forced us on to the plane," he said.
The former Celebrity Big Brother contestant said that at the steps of the plane a representative of the foreign ministry in Egypt had told him he had been declared "persona non grata", was being deported and was not welcome to return to Egypt.
Mr McKay said of the incident: "We were surrounded by plainclothes men who bundled us into a van. Two guys came in with us and they locked us in."
Since none of the men spoke any English, the pair did not know they were police officers and initially feared they were being kidnapped, he added.
They eventually clarified the situation after using their mobile phones to call friends who spoke Arabic and could communicate with the officers.
An hour into the journey from the border to Cairo, they asked to return to the border after hearing that seven members of the Viva Palestina convoy had reportedly been arrested, following clashes in which an Egyptian border guard was killed on Tuesday.
However, they were refused permission to return, Mr McKay said. When they reached Cairo airport, they were surrounded by 25 plainclothes officers, who "followed us everywhere – to the toilet, airside, to the BA lounge", he added.
"Finally, after we queued to get on the plane, the first person to speak English to us identified himself as being from the Foreign Office and said: 'You are being deported'."
The Egyptian foreign ministry confirmed that Mr Galloway had been ordered out of the country.
"George Galloway is considered persona non grata and will not be allowed to enter into Egypt again," a ministry statement said.
An Egyptian police spokesman said the MP had been escorted away for his own protection.
"It was to protect him from the Egyptian people's anger," he said. "He was told that he is a troublemaker and his behaviour is undermining Egyptian security."
The seven members of the convoy reportedly arrested are believed to be the same individuals detained in the aftermath of Tuesday's clashes on the Gaza border, who had then been released.
Fifteen Palestinians were also injured in the violence.
The aid convoy, consisting of 550 people from 17 countries, blamed the trouble on "heavy-handed policing" of the group. Viva Palestina said 55 of its members were injured.
A spokesman for the UK Foreign Office said of the remaining British volunteers: "We will continue to offer consular assistance to anyone who needs it."
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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