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Ethiopian hijacker was asylum seekerPARA:

By
ANTHEE CARASSAVAS

ATHENS, Nov. 9 -- An Ethiopian journalist who hijacked an Olympic Airlines plane over the Aegean Thursday, told police after his arrest that he wished to seek political asylum, officials said. The hijacker, who held a pregnant stewardess at knife point during an international flight, was arrested after the plane with 114 passengers on board landed in Athens, and was taken to a public prosecutor to be charged, police said. He was to be charged with illegal seizure of an aircraft and violating plane safety regulations, police said. The 34-year-old Ethiopian, identified as Melaku Mekebeb, hijacked Olympic Airways Flight 472 over the Aegean as it was en route to Athens from Sydney, Australia via Bangkok. Mekebeb, a journalist, told police after his arrest he carried out the hijack to demand political asylum and the release of some 500 political prisoners in Ethiopia. 'He did it the wrong way. If he wanted to request political asylum he should have legally entered the country and filed his request within 48 hours as the law states,' Athens Police Chief Christos Keramidas said. Using a knife taken from a food tray served aboard the flight, Mekebeb took a pregnant air stewardess hostage and threatened to slash her throat, police said. 'With a tray knife, he immobilized the air stewardess as she left a lavoratory of the plane. At the time, the aircraft was flying over the Aegean island of Chios, heading for Athens,' a police report said. Mekebeb continued holding the flight attendent at knife point after the Boeing 747 plane landed in Athens at about 4 a.m. (0200 GMT), and demanded to meet the press and United Nations officials.

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Using a female reporter as bait, plainclothes policemen posed as television crew-members to tag behind the journalist as she climbed the stairs to the door of the plane, where Mekebebe stood with a knife to the hostess's throat. 'While (he was) voicing his demands to the woman interviewer, the policemen swiftly immobilized, disarmed and arrested him,' a police report said. 'The air stewardess was freed, safely and with no injuries,' it added. The hijack was over at about 4:30 a.m. (0230 GMT). Officials said Mekebeb had been deported from Australia Wednesday after serving a six-month sentenced for illegal entry into the country. He was convicted earlier in Ethiopia for writing articles against the government, officials said. In Greece, he faces trial and imprisonment on hijacking charges, police officials said. 'Like in Australia, he will serve his sentence and be deported from Greece,' Keramidas said. Mekebeb told police he has a wife and child in the United States.

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