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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 April, 2004, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Vanunu stays calm amid the chaos
By James Reynolds and Matthew Price
BBC reporting team, in Ashkelon

Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu is released
Mr Vanunu said the Israelis had not broken him
Former Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu walked free from prison after 18 years. But the controversial figure stepped back into the spotlight.

Mr Vanunu came out of a blue prison door into bright sunshine wearing a shirt and tie and looking stern and resolute.

He was greeted by his brother and supporter, Meir. Surrounded by prison guards, he paced up and down the prison courtyard.

He raised his hands towards his supporters who had gathered outside the prison gates.

He then climbed onto the gates and waved the victory sign. Opponents had gathered too, booing and shouting insults.

'Symbol of freedom'

There were about two or three hundred people in all. At one point the crowd surged forward to the prison gates, only to be pushed back by police.

Their feeling seemed to be it would be too disruptive - and possibly dangerous for Mr Vanunu - for him to approach the crowds.

Amid the chaos, the hordes and the camera crews, he seemed the calmest of all. While his relatives and those who campaigned for his release had been anxiously waiting for this moment, he had been isolated from much of the storm.

A protester leaps on a car carrying Mordechai Vanunu
Critics say Mr Vanunu is a traitor to Israel

But in the next moment, Mr Vanunu had his chance to address the world's media.

Despite the restrictions Israel has imposed on him, including a ban on speaking to the press, he spent around half an hour talking to reporters in the prison compound.

He spoke in English, refusing to answer questions in Hebrew, the language of the country he said had tried to gag him.

He said Israel had not managed to steal his sanity.

"I said to the Shabak (Shin Bet), the Mossad, you didn't succeed to break me, you didn't succeed to make me crazy," he said.

"I am a symbol of the will of freedom. You cannot break the human spirit."

Scuffles

He was asked whether he had any more secrets to reveal. "No," he said, "it's just blah blah."

And he told reporters that he now wanted to move abroad and get married.

He has said he no longer wants to be Israeli, and he is clearly not going to be quiet in his criticism of Israel - not just on the nuclear question, but on other issues, like its relationship with the Palestinians.

But for now, he will not be able to leave Israel. The government says it is worried that he will reveal further secrets, so it is keeping him in this country where it can keep an eye on him.

Mordechai Vanunu was driven from the prison by his brother. The convert to Christianity was taken to the Anglican church of St George in Jerusalem's Old City.

And after they left in their car, on the streets outside, there were angry scuffles between supporters and opponents of Mordechai Vanunu.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Mordechai Vanunu
"I don't have any secrets"



SEE ALSO:
Vanunu: Hero or villain?
21 Apr 04  |  Have Your Say
Israel confirms Vanunu restraints
20 Apr 04  |  Middle East
Israel's nuclear programme
22 Dec 03  |  Middle East


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