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Arms exporter's meeting hit by Masari protest

Directors of British Aerospace, Britain's biggest military exporter, were splattered with eggs, paint and tomatoes yesterday when anti-arms- trade protesters disrupted a stormy annual meeting of shareholders in central London.

The trouble came soon after BAe chief executive, Dick Evans, denied knowledge of, or involvement in, moves to deport Mohamed al-Masari, the exiled Saudi dissident at the centre of a diplomatic row between Britain and Saudi Arabia. One protester tried to make a citizen's arrest of the entire board for the crime of "mass genocide".

The three-hour meeting was adjourned in uproar while security guards dragged demonstrators out of the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre in Westminster, London. No arrests were made. One startled shareholder said: "It was dreadful. People were fighting and jumping up on the platform."

Mr Evans denied involvement in the Masari affair, saying it was a matter for the Government. He told the Labour MP George Galloway in bad-tempered exchanges that he had no knowledge of any plan to kidnap or murder Mr Masari.

BAe has been accused of putting pressure on the Government to deport Mr Masari to safeguard defence contracts. It is one of a number of UK companies which benefit from the pounds 20bn Al-Yamamah arms deal between Saudi Arabia and Britain. Mr Masari has been allowed to stay in Britain for four years after the Government dropped plans to deport him.

Mr Galloway's allegations were part of a wider attack on BAe's policy on military exports. "The company has the ethics of Pontius Pilate," he said. "They wash their hands of the effects of the arms trade."

The MP for Glasgow Hillhead was among about 100 shareholders who packed the meeting by using token shares to ask questions about arms sales.

The BAe board were quizzed about alleged involvement in the sale electric- shock batons, which the company denies, and the policy of its Royal Ordnance subsidiary towards the manufacture of anti-personnel land mines, which the Government last week said it wanted to see banned worldwide. Directors heard calls for BAe to stop selling Hawk trainer aircraft to Indonesia. The first of 24 jets are due for delivery this month.

"There is a lot a blood on the balance sheet," Mr Galloway alleged, referring to BAe's pounds 234m profits last year.

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