French boat symbolically 'sets sail' for Gaza
Pro-Palestinian activists on a French boat protested Monday by symbolically "setting sail" on the flotilla for Gaza, revving up their engines in an Athens port in defiance of a Greek ban.
French activists were joined by Americans from the US Audacity of Hope boat, keen to show support after their own attempt to sail had been thwarted Friday by authorities imposing a ban on all Gaza-bound ships leaving Greek ports.
"And we're off!" shouted the passengers, cheering and waving as the captain of the Louise Michele unfurled the sails and wildly beeped the boat's horn, chanting "One, two, three four, Occupation No More!"
Greek coastguard officials moved in swiftly to ask what the activists were carrying on board, but let the demonstration continue.
The French Boat to Gaza campaign had renewed their request for permission from authorities to leave the port on Monday morning, but had been told that the ban remained in place. They were carrying a small amount of aid on board.
Activists from the impounded Audacity had begun a hunger-strike in front of the US embassy on Sunday to protest against the arrest of their captain, who was allegedly being held in "shocking conditions".
They were quickly moved on by police.
Captain John Klusmer was arrested Friday by authorities after his ship was intercepted in Greek waters. French Captain Alain Connan said he had decided not to set sail because he risked being slapped with a long prison sentence.
Head of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) Moustafa Barghouti said the demonstration was an "exciting moment" and that people in Gaza had "already called to say how grateful they are for such a devoted show of solidarity".
Standing out on deck wrapped in a Palestinian flag, he said the protest was helping "expose not only Israel's blockade and occupation but also the complicity of the European and American governments".
Frustrated that the flotilla had been thwarted by Greek authorities in its attempt to breach Israel's sea blockade, French member of parliament Jean-Paul Lecoq said activists hoped to challenge the ban in European courts.
Passengers in t-shirts reading "Stay Human" and "Do No Harm" hugged each other on the boat and said that their mission was not over.
"What people have done today will be written with the ink of dignity," Barghouti said.
© 2011 AFP