Exile faces cool reception on Dominica

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The Independent Online

Latin America Correspondent

Even if Britain goes ahead and deports him, Mohammed al-Masari may not spend much time on the little Caribbean island of Dominica. In fact, he may have trouble getting off the plane.

Dominica's former prime minister Dame Eugenia Charles, shocked by her successor Edison James's decision to accept the Saudi dissident, said she would organise a protest at the airport to prevent Mr Masari from disembarking. "Even this man himself [Mr Masari] seems surprised that our island has been selected for his deportation. Money must have changed hands. I can only assume the Dominican government has received some financial benefit from Britain in return for accepting this man," the 76-year-old former premier told The Independent in a telephone interview. "The Saudis may want to chop off his head. We'll just chop off his stay."

Dame Eugenia, the Caribbean's first woman prime minister when she took power in 1980 - she ruled until last year - reflected the surprise of most of her countrymen and women at the news they first heard on the BBC World Service yesterday morning. The general reaction was: "Why us?" Dominica gained independence from Britain in 1978.

Mr James yesterday denied he had made any deal with Britain in return for accepting Mr Masari. In a statement to reporters, Mr James said he had offered to provide asylum to the Saudi dissident after British officials contacted him last month. He had agreed only because of "our long diplomatic association with Britain," he said. The Prime Minister, predicted, however, that Mr Masari would not after all come to the island, partly because of security concerns.

In the meantime, the possible arrival of a radical Muslim and outspoken dissident was the biggest thing to hit Dominica since twin hurricanes Luis and Marilyn zapped the Windward Islands last September, wiping out 90 per cent of the vital banana crop.

Locals on the strongly-Catholic island joked that Mr Masari would be the most unwelcome visitor since 3 November, 1493. That was whenColumbus landed, a year after his initial discovery of the Americas naming the island after the day of his landing - Dominica or Sunday. Alongside the island's mainly-black population, there are still several hundred descendants of the Carib Indians who watched Columbus land.