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Friday, 7 January, 2000, 19:47 GMT
Village declares independence

Sussex...scene of a new peasants' revolt

Just when you thought revolutions had gone out of fashion, the residents of a sleepy English village have proved it is not the case.

The East Sussex hamlet has declared independence from the UK, erected a series of border posts and demanded "foreigners" obtain visas to obtain entry.

The People's Republic of Ashurst Wood Nation State - which uses the acronym Prawns - announced its break from "taxation and British oppression" in the first minute of 1 January.

A revolutionary committee informed the Queen and Prime Minister Tony Blair of its intention to rule unencumbered by the law of the land.

The "universal declaration of independence" came with a statement saying: "We are pleased and proud to announce to the world that we are no longer prawns of the government of the Disunited Kingdom, we are now Prawns in our own right."

Those behind the movement say most villagers are in favour of the move and have volunteered to help man checkpoints on the road from nearby East Grinstead.

On Friday, a retired colonel - now grandly titled Chief Prawn of the Army - was in charge.

'Immunity from taxation'

The "revolutionaries" say they are justified in breaking with the UK because of a ruling by King Ethelred, who came to the English throne in the year 979.

They say he granted the village of Ashurst, as it was then known, immunity from taxation after he was taken ill in the area.

Legend has it the people of Ashurst presumed the king was dead and prepared a great funeral pyre.

But as the king was placed on the pyre and torches were ignited, he rose up crying: "Stop".

He granted locals immunity from taxation as a result of his relief at still being alive.

'Serious business'

Villagers deny they have been inspired by the 1949 Ealing comedy Passport to Pimlico, which starred Stanley Holloway and Margaret Rutherford.

It featured the fictional tale of an inner London parish which declares UDI after finding an ancient document claiming it is part of Burgundy.

The people of Ashurst Wood say what started as a joke has become a serious business.

A constitution has been established and passports issued, while Prawns' leaders say even the police no longer have power in the village.

Mark Eichner, 43, a company director who is now Minister for Entertainment, said: "The motivation lies in the fact that our village was losing its direction and identity. Declaring a declaration of independence will help bring the community together.

'Independence Day'

"It started as a real joke but is now less so. A lot of people have been involved. It has resurrected relationships.

"Where it will go from here, who knows, but it is growing. I am sure we will have an annual Independence Day."

Fellow leader Keith Hagenbach, 55, a psychotherapist, said: "I suppose this is all about our anarchic streak. It's something many people would, I am sure, love to do.

"We are touched that we are doing has reached beyond the village and we want to channel that energy. We may sell passports, to hand-selected people of of course, at the local fair and pass the proceeds to local charity."

For now though, the revolutionaries are busy establishing total equality among men.

Mr Blair is yet to respond and there are no signs of British Army manouvres in .

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