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US court jails octogenarian nun for anti-nuclear peace protest

A US court has sentenced an 84-year-old Catholic nun to nearly three years in jail for her part in an anti-nuclear protest. She and two accomplices had broken into the uranium storage site and sprayed peace slogans.

The nun, Megan Rice, was on Tuesday sentenced to 35 months in prison for her part in the protest after being convicted of federal sabotage in May last year.

Her fellow defendants - Michael Walli, 64, and Greg Boertje-Obed, 58, - were each sentenced to 62 months by the court in Knoxville.

The group cut through fencing to break into the Y-12 plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, in July 2012, to reach a storage bunker containing weapons-grade uranium. Inside the premises, they sprayed peace slogans and splashed baby bottles containing human blood on the bunker wall. The three - who spent two hours there - were also said to have tried to hammer a small chunk from the wall.

When guards finally reached the scene - within the most secure part of the complex - they found the activists singing and offering to break bread with them. The group was also said to have offered the security personnel a Bible, candles and white roses.

'Jail me for life'

All three were convicted of damaging national defense premises under the sabotage. The crime carries a maximum penalty of 20 years. The defendants, who had already been hit with a $53,000 (38,500-euro) fine, had argued that their acts were not crimes but necessary symbolic acts to draw attention to the immorality of nuclear weapons.

Rice was reported to have asked District Court Judge Amul R Thapar to jail her for life.

"Please have no leniency with me," she said. "To remain in prison for the rest of my life would be the greatest gift you could give me."

The judge has said he could not accommodate her request, and stressed that the sentence was based on her actions, rather than her political stance.

"There is no question these actions violate the law," he said. "No man or group is above the law."

The two male defendants were said to have received tougher sentences because of a longer history of criminal activity, most of which was non-violent civil disobedience.

An inquiry was launched after the event by both US lawmakers and the Department of Energy, which found "troubling displays of ineptitude" when it came to security.

rc/jm (AP, dpa)