HAMILTON Hundreds of protesters called for Bermudian Premier Ewart Brown to step down on Tuesday and accused him of acting like a dictator in allowing four Guantanamo prisoners from China to settle on the mid-Atlantic island.
Some 600 people gathered outside Parliament in the island's capital Hamilton, waving banners and chanting "Brown must go" as they marched to the Cabinet office.
Brown emerged from the building and shouted to the booing crowd: "As some of you might know, I grew up in the protest era. This is nothing new to me. I have seen them larger and longer," he said.
Under an agreement with Brown, the United States last week sent to the British territory four members of China's Muslim Uighur minority who had been held at the Guantanamo prison camp long after the U.S. military and courts determined they posed no threat.
The United States said it could not send them to China because they faced persecution there, but U.S. politicians blocked efforts to release them in the United States.
The British government complained that it had not been consulted about the deal and questioned whether Brown had authority to admit the Uighurs.
In Bermuda, opponents who had earlier accused Brown of autocracy also condemned him for acting unilaterally.
Tuesday's protest was aimed not so much at the Uighurs as at Brown for his failure to consult the island's people or governor and his perceived snub of Britain's Queen Elizabeth, whom the governor represents.
Bermuda, a banking center and tourist destination, is Britain's oldest colony and one of the world's wealthiest places.
Janice Battersbee, who described herself as a lifelong supporter of Brown's Progressive Labour Party, stepped up to the microphone when Brown invited the protesters to send a representative to speak.
"The leadership of this country seems to be on a course heading toward dictatorship that the majority of Bermudians are no longer willing to tolerate," Battersbee said.
"This latest action is the final straw. We are fed up, disgusted, disrespected and angry."
Brown said he had been summoned to meet with the governor, Sir Richard Gozney, but did not elaborate. When Battersbee finished speaking, Brown was led away by police and left in an official car.
About 40 Brown supporters shouted "Brown must stay" but were drowned out by shouts and claxons. The two sides sparred verbally but there was no violence in the orderly capital of Hamilton.
Brown took office in 2006 and was re-elected to a five-year term when his party won a majority in Parliament in 2007.
Bermuda's immigration minister, David Burch, said the four Uighur men had received several job offers but that their status remained in limbo until the British government completes a security review.
(Writing by Jane Sutton; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Philip Barbara)