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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 January, 2004, 00:49 GMT
Brazil fines 'obscene' US pilot
American Airlines pilot Dale Robbin Hirsh (centre) escorted by Brazilian police
The pilot (centre) is said to regret the incident
An American Airlines pilot has been fined $12,000 for making an obscene gesture while being photographed at Sao Paulo airport in Brazil.

The pilot, Dale Robbin Hirsh, and other crew members were arrested on arrival from Miami.

They have all now been released. American Airlines has agreed to pay the fine and has issued an apology.

However the airline added that the pilot had not intended to be disrespectful.

Brazil has been photographing and finger-printing US visitors in response to similar US requirements for visitors needing a visa.
Basically, it was a joke done in bad taste
Francisco Baltazar da Silva
Sao Paulo federal police chief
The incident occurred when Mr Hirsh, 52, and his crew were going through security checks after arriving from Miami.

Mr Hirsh raised his middle finger as he was handing papers to officials, in "an internationally recognised obscene gesture," a Brazilian police spokesman told reporters.

Mr Hirsh was taken to a federal courthouse. The authorities decided not to press criminal charges, imposing a fine instead.

Francisco Baltazar da Silva, chief of Sao Paulo's federal police said Mr Hirsh had apologised repeatedly for the incident.

"Basically, it was a joke done in bad taste," Mr da Silva said.

Ten other crew members were also denied entry to Brazil after causing problems during the identity checks.

American Airlines has apologised over the incident.

"The company apologises to the Brazilian Government, the airport authorities, the police or anyone else who may have perceived anything they believe to have been disrespectful," a statement said.

"The captain and other crew members certainly meant no disrespect."

Tourism fears

The incident comes amid diplomatic tensions between the US and Brazil over the security checks, which came into effect at the beginning of the year.

The Brazilian measures were originally imposed by a judge, but became official government policy this week.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Monday asked US President George W Bush to drop the visa requirement for Brazilians entering the US.

The checks are to continue for a trial period, while the impact of the measures is monitored.

Many in Brazil fear the policy will harm the country's tourism industry.

Authorities in Rio de Janeiro been giving US visitors flowers and T-shirts saying "Rio loves you" - fearing that the security checks will deter Americans from visiting the city.

The Brazilian measures have been causing long delays for travellers.

When the checks were first introduced, some incoming US flight passengers were delayed at the airport for up to nine hours while security officials ran identification checks.

Brazil continues to check US IDs
13 Jan 04  |  Americas
Hi-tech checks for US visitors
20 May 03  |  Americas
US imposes new visitor regulations
18 Dec 02  |  Americas

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