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Last Updated: Friday, 21 July 2006, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Banned cleric bids to flee Beirut
Omar Bakri Mohammed
Omar Bakri Mohammed ran the disbanded al-Muhajiroun group

Controversial Muslim cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed, who was banned from the UK, has attempted to board a ship evacuating Britons from Lebanon.

Mr Bakri Mohammed argued he should be allowed back to see his children but was turned away by British officials.

The former leader of the al-Muhajiroun group was banned from the UK in August last year because his presence "was not conducive to the public good".

The Royal Navy is evacuating thousands of Britons from the crisis region.

'Political views'

Mr Bakri Mohammed told BBC News what happened when he attempted to board the vessel on Thursday.

"They said 'Sorry, the only people who will be in the boat are those who have British citizenship and those who've got British passports.'

"I was living in the UK for over 20 years and I have never been granted British citizenship because of my political views, whereas my family were granted and this is really the difference."

Home Secretary John Reid said Bakri would not be allowed to return to the UK. In an interview recorded for GMTV's Sunday Programme, he said: "Mr Bakri's presence here is not, in my view, conducive to the public good, so he's not going to be allowed back into Britain."

Mr Bakri Mohammed had indefinite leave to remain in the UK since the 1980s after gaining political asylum but that was cancelled last year by the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

The decision did not affect his family, including seven children who were born in the UK.

It's a bit of theatre, to be candid with you
Lord Triesman
Foreign Office Minister

Lebanon rescue

Foreign Office Minister Lord Triesman, who is in Cyprus to observe the arrival of evacuated Britons, said he thought Mr Bakri Mohammed was trying to gain publicity.

"The decision was taken by the home secretary that his presence in the United Kingdom was not conducive given his attitudes and given the way he's spoken of this country, the United Kingdom. It was not conducive for the well-being of the country.

"We've got about 30 immigration officers from the Home Office processing people who've got legitimate visas and no doubt they will be taking appropriate decisions but so far as I'm aware, he's made no application whatever to us to come in any case.

"It's a bit of theatre to be candid with you."

Some 1,300 British citizens arrived in the Cypriot port of Limassol on HMS Bulwark on Friday before heading to RAF Akrotiri for flights to a reception centre at London's Gatwick Airport. They were evacuated along with several hundred foreign nationals.

About 1,000 Britons had already been rescued from Lebanon, including 700 people on HMS York on Thursday.

The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah militants based in Lebanon is continuing, following the capture of two Israeli soldiers.

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