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Last Updated: Friday, 12 January 2007, 07:19 GMT
At the gates of Guantanamo
By Stephen Gibbs
BBC News, Guantanamo, Cuba

For Zohra Zewawi, the final 50 metres were the hardest.

Rick Mines holds a placard
Omar Zewawi has been in Guantanamo Bay for over four years
The middle-aged Muslim woman, her traditional headscarf helping to shield her from the Caribbean sun, seemed to believe that at the end of her walk to Guantanamo Bay, she just might see her son Omar.

He has been shackled inside the US base, without trial, for the last four-and-a-half years.

Instead, Mrs Zewawi did not even glimpse the bay, let alone the man she so obviously desperately misses.

The band of protesters was stopped at the Cuban entrance to the area.

"It's a military zone, and entry is prohibited" said the soldier from Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces, when asked why they could not get a little closer.

This demonstration has put the Cuban authorities in a delicate situation.

This little prison of George, we're gonna shut it down. Shut it down, shut it down, shut it down
Protesters' chant

While they believe that the US has no right to operate a naval base on Cuban soil in the first place, and wholeheartedly back the view that the detention centre within it is an international disgrace, they do not want to be seen to be orchestrating protests.

Perhaps they are worried about setting a precedent, whereby worldwide critics of Guantanamo Bay would expect to be able to come to Cuba to demonstrate in person.

So instead of being anything rowdy, this gathering was small, well-managed, and an unusual mix of the folksy and the disturbing.

Outside the Cuban military gate, the group of 12 held hands in what would have seemed like a campfire circle were it not for the blistering tropical heat.

To a gospel tune, they sang the words: "This little prison of George, we're gonna shut it down. Shut it down, shut it down, shut it down."

Keeping hope

One of the protesters was wearing his version of the familiar orange jump suit that detainees in Guantanamo Bay are forced to wear.

Protesters marching towards Guantanamo Bay
Anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan (c) led the march
He removed his balaclava and introduced himself as Rick Mines, 63, an agriculture economist from California.

He, his wife Holly, and daughter Anaka had all come to Cuba to protest.

Alongside him was a man who had spent two-and-a-half years of his life in a real orange jump suit.

Asif Iqbal, a gas engineer from Birmingham, England, was accused by the US authorities of participating in a meeting led by the 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and Osama bin Laden.

It was later proved that he had been in a UK police station at the time.

The softly-spoken 25-year-old appears remarkably positive despite his ordeal.

As he stood just a few kilometres from the place where he was locked up, he said some things felt familiar.

"The temperature, and the smell is the same," he noted.

"But now I am a free man. I want the brothers in there not to give up hope."

'Enemies of humanity'

The strongest criticism of the US policy came from the Americans in the group.

Cindy Sheehan, the high-profile peace activist whose son was killed in Iraq, described the Bush administration as "enemies of humanity".

The remark drew an approving smile from the Cuban officials who were looking on.

But Mrs Zewawi wanted to talk about her son rather than about US politicians. Omar Deghayes, she said, was a good man, and would never be a terrorist.

"Maybe something will happen," she said. "Maybe they will call me, and let me hear his voice."

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