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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 April, 2004, 07:37 GMT 08:37 UK
Vanunu prepared for jail release
Protesters outside the Hashkima prison
Protesters covered their mouths with black bands
Anti-nuclear campaigners have gathered outside an Israeli prison to await the imminent release of jailed nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu.

Supporters waved banners welcoming the impending release and calling him a "hero of peace". But many in Israel see him as a traitor.

Israel says he is a security threat and has barred him from travelling abroad.

Vanunu spent nearly 18 years in prison for revealing details of Israel's clandestine nuclear arms programme.

On the basis of the information he gave to the UK's Sunday Times Newspaper in 1986, analysts concluded Israel had scores of nuclear warheads.

The government has justified its decision to impose restrictions saying Vanunu still possesses state secrets "including some which he has not revealed".

'Bravest man'

Israel's Prisons Authority has announced that Vanunu will be freed from Shikma prison in Ashkelon at 1100 (0800 GMT) on Wednesday.

Mordechai Vanunu
No passport
May not leave Israel for a year
Contact with foreigners only by permission
Barred from foreign embassies
Media interviews not permitted
Banned from discussing nuclear secrets

He is widely despised as a traitor in Israel but has been embraced internationally as a hero by the anti-nuclear movement.

Among the dozens of activists who have flown to Israel are British actress Susannah York and Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairaed Maguire.

Vanunu was a "man of honour and principle... one of the bravest men of recent times", MS York said.

Justin Moraham, an activist who travelled from Ireland for the occasion, criticised the imposition of sweeping restrictions after he served his sentence.

"There has been a backlash which has drawn more attention to Israel's nuclear programme," he said. "I would hate to think they [the Israeli government] are acting out of vengeance but I can't find any other reason."

Fresh warnings

Israel said it could have placed much tougher post-release restrictions on Vanunu - and the length of time the current regime will remain in force depends on his behaviour.

The travel restrictions will be reviewed after one year.

The defence ministry says it has given him a map of Israel marking the areas off-limits to him including ports and airports.

He has been forbidden from entering any foreign embassy or telling the media about his work at the Dimona nuclear plant.

Israelis heard the 50-year-old's voice for the first time on Monday in a tape recording of a recent interrogation in which he defended his actions.

Correspondents said the tape incensed many listeners and was clearly broadcast to ensure his image remained tarnished.

In it he said the Dimona nuclear reactor where he worked should be destroyed and Israel should not exist.

"We don't need a Jewish state. There needs to be a Palestinian state," he said on the tape.

In a BBC interview, Vanunu's brother Meir called into question the veracity of the tape and said governments including the UK had a duty to ensure his protection amid a "very hostile" media campaign against him.

The BBC's Matthew Price
"His release is stirring up passions"

Meir Vanunu, brother of Mordechai Vanunu
"They are continuing to portray him as a very dangerous man"

Vanunu defiant ahead of release
19 Apr 04  |  Middle East
Israel's nuclear programme
22 Dec 03  |  Middle East
Israel confirms Vanunu restraints
20 Apr 04  |  Middle East

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