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Protests stall Gulf-bound frigate

By CNN's Grant Holloway

A protestor attaches himself to the stern of the HMAS Sydney Tuesday.
A protestor attaches himself to the stern of the HMAS Sydney Tuesday.

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SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Greenpeace protestors have managed to stall the departure of an Australian navy frigate which was heading to join troops in the Persian Gulf.

Two protestors attached themselves to the bow and stern of the HMAS Sydney as it was leaving Sydney Harbor Tuesday morning.

Other protestors in boats cast a mooring rope across the path of the frigate, forcing it to first stop, then begin returning to its base at Garden Island in the middle of Sydney Harbor.

Both protestors attached themselves with ropes to the ship as it was moving after pulling up alongside the vessel in motorboats.

The protestors both carried Greenpeace signs and one was able to unfurl a "No War" banner while hanging precariously from near the bow of the naval vessel.

Sydney Water Police removed and arrested both protestors after about 15 minutes.

Another protestor on a surfboard also attempted to disrupt the ship's departure, before being picked up by police.

It is not yet known whether the mooring line caused any damage to the ship and the vessel has now resumed its journey to the Gulf, steaming out of the heads of Sydney Harbor just before noon Tuesday.

HMAS Sydney is destined to replace two other Australian frigates operating in the Persian Gulf as part of the coalition forces attempting to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power.

The frigate is expected to take three weeks to reach the Persian Gulf, where it will join another navy vessel operating there, HMAS Kanimbla.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard early Tuesday farewelled the HMAS Sydney, saying the troops had the support of all Australians.

He later criticized the actions of the protestors saying they had no regard for the feelings of the sailors or their families.

"These clowns ought to understand that and if they think that's winning support to their cause, they're very badly mistaken," Howard told radio listeners.

"I'm sure they'll be dealt with by the law and they should be."

A Greenpeace spokesman said they had taken the action to protest Australia's on-going involvement in the conflict in Iraq and also to protest against the conflict itself.

The spokesman said Greenpeace believed the war to be illegal according to U.N. conventions and also immoral in the current context.

Australia has committed around 2,000 troops to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, including the navy vessels, and a squadron of fighter jets.


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