Some 60 passengers claiming to be of Iranian origin were detained by Belgian police early Friday after staging a sit-in on a Lufthansa plane at Brussels airport for nearly 16 hours overnight, officials said.
Iranian passengers planned the sit-in to protest EU talks with Iran
The passengers on the Lufthansa plane, which had arrived from Frankfurt Thursday afternoon, surrendered to police shortly before dawn after being threatened with arrest, federal police spokesman Els Cleemput told journalists.
About five of the 57 or 58 passengers refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily and had to be carried off the plane, according to another police spokesman, Vincent Olivier.
The authorities had negotiated late into the night with several dozen of the protesters who refused to leave the aircraft in what appeared to be a protest against the European Union's conciliatory policies towards Iran.
Opposition to EU negotiations
Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani, met with, from far right: German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in December to discuss Iran's nuclear program.
The EU is negotiating with the Islamic state's government, notably offering the prospect of a trade agreement in exchange for guarantees about its nuclear program.
The plane had arrived from Frankfurt on Thursday afternoon. The protesters refused to leave the craft, but shortly after the incident started they allowed other passengers and crew to get off without incident.
At an early stage in the standoff a correspondent for ZDF German television who spoke with one of the passengers by telephone said he had been told that no arms were aboard the plane and that no hostages were being held.
The remaining passengers "all have passports from the European Union," but "they say they are of Iranian origin," Cleemput said earlier.
A young Iranian, who spoke to reporters at Brussels airport on behalf of the passengers, said the action had been under preparation for five months by a London-based Iranian monarchist group, "Azarakhsh."
"We all ask the leaders of the European Union (not to) support the regime in Iran. We don't ask nobody, no country, nor any power in the world to help us to change the regime. We can do it ourselves," said the man who identified himself as Ramin.
The RTL-TVI television station said the group's demands were "political demands" linked notably to the European Union's policies with regard to Iran.
The German magazine Der Spiegel said it had received a letter from the group, which described itself as representing Iranian men and women protesting against a Tehran regime responsible for "torture and terror."
As the night wore on, the plane was moved from its parking gate in preparation for an "administrative" arrest of those on board, police said.
It was at this point that the protesters decided to give themselves up. "We always said to the activists that they would have no problems if they decided to leave the plane," said Cleemput.
In Berlin, a Lufthansa spokesman said the protest "had nothing to do with our company."
"They have chosen without a doubt a strange place to demonstrate," said the spokesman, Thomas Ellerbeck.
He said the plane was carrying 120 passengers when it left Frankfurt. Air traffic was not disrupted by the situation.