Cross-dressing trial stalls in Nigeria sharia court

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BAUCHI, Nigeria, Sep 13 (Reuters) The case of 18 Nigerian men on trial in an Islamic sharia court on charges of dressing up as women stalled today as the state prosecutor withdrew to let police carry out further investigations.

The men, mostly in their 20s, were arrested during a party at a hotel in northern Bauchi state on August 4. Police said they were wearing women's clothes, which is illegal under the state's sharia penal code.

The offence is punishable by up to a year in prison and 20 lashes by cane.

At a previous hearing on August 21, state prosecutor Aliyu Bin Idris had asked the court to allow him to take over the case from the police. The judge granted the request and adjourned the case to give him time to study the evidence.

But today, the prosecutor said he was withdrawing from the case to give police more time.

''They have further investigations to pursue and they can't do that while we are prosecuting,'' he told Reuters by telephone.

At the August hearing, a hostile crowd stoned the suspects as they left the court and police retaliated by firing tear gas at the protesters.

There was no crowd outside the courtroom today and the proceedings were peaceful. The accused, who are all free on bail, arrived separately instead of being brought in together in a conspicuous prison vehicle.

Bauchi is one of 12 states in Nigeria's predominantly Muslim north that started a stricter enforcement of sharia law in 2000 -- a decision that alienated sizeable Christian minorities and sparked bouts of sectarian violence that killed thousands.

REUTERS SS HT1737

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