BERMUDA'S premier, Ewart Brown, seemed remarkably calm in the eye of the storm that has raged around him since he granted asylum to four Chinese Uighurs who were released from Guantanamo last week.

We talked Wednesday, a day after 1,000 irate Bermudans who wanted to hang his pelt from a pike amassed in the government square and demanded a vote of "no confidence" to force him out of office.

For good measure, they also called him a "dictator" and accused him of harboring terrorists.

A day earlier, the Royal Gazette, the largest and most influential newspaper in Bermuda, called for his resignation. Sir Richard Gozney, who is overseer for the British government, called him on the carpet to remind him that although he was elected by the people, he serves at the pleasure of the crown.

Through it all, Brown seemed pleasant, almost jovial. But it was clear that he was unprepared for the torrid reaction to his humanitarian gesture.

"I didn't expect the local population to react to that extent," he told me. "That part is a surprise."

He must not have followed this story in U.S. papers. The popular conception here and in much of the world is that every Guantanamo detainee was or is a terrorist committed to destroying our way of life.

These four Uighurs were lumped into that convenient category even though there was not a shred of evidence to link them to any anti-U.S. activity.

Uighurs are Muslim separatists from Xinjiang Province in western China. They had fled to Afghanistan to escape Chinese oppression and then to Pakistan.

They were rounded up and turned over to the U.S. government in 2001. A U.S. court cleared them in 2006 of any anti-U.S. terrorist activity.

The Bush administration then got Albania to accept six of them. Last October, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered the 17 remaining Uighurs to be released into the United States.

Neither Bush nor Obama would allow that. But neither administration had much luck finding countries willing to accept detainees who were considered too hot to handle by two U.S. presidents.

Until last month, when Dr. Brown, who earned his medical degree at Howard University, made his annual head-of-state visit to Washington.

"It was clear that this was a blatant injustice," Brown told me. "That's why I got involved.

"I'm naturally drawn to matters involving human rights. I was a student-body president at Howard, and I got involved in civil rights in Washington.

"This story was buzzing around when I was in Washington last month. I offered to help.

"The White House subsequently followed up and the rest unfolded rather quickly."

Too quickly for the British government. Brown saw it as an immigration issue, for which he didn't need approval. British Foreign Secretary David Millibank disagreed and threatened to overturn the order.

Since then, anti-Brown activists have seized the opportunity to discredit him. Tourism officials say that they were "flooded" with cancellations by tourists who say that they are afraid of "Muslim terrorists."

"I can't quantify how many protesters were motivated by politics and how many by fear," Brown said. "I believe fear was real for a small percentage.

"But when you put a human face on it, Bermudans started to fall in love with them.

"Now, it's largely about what they consider my poor conduct."

One of the most prominent signs at the protest Tuesday read: "Keep the Uighurs, get rid of Brown!"

Gozney, the British governor, now says that it would be unfair to return the Uighurs to Guantanamo.

Obama won't expend any political capital on them. They won't be coming to the U.S.

Meanwhile, the Uighurs - Abdul Nasser, Huzaifa Parhat, Abdul Semet and Jalal Jalaladin - remain in limbo in paradise.

"Growing up under communism," Nasser told reporters last week, "we always dreamed of living in peace and working in a free society like this one. Today you have let freedom ring."

That ring was music to Ewart Brown's ears.

"I have very little autonomy, and I am acutely aware of that," he told me. "But I hope Britain and the U.S. work it out so that the Uighurs can stay here.

"We can defeat the no-confidence vote. But I hope the public ultimately will understand that what motivated me was an honorable humanitarian concern."

My hope is that, when the storm passes, a man who tried to do the right thing is still standing. *

Send e-mail to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: http://go.philly.com/smith