Chadians urge trial for Europeans, French seek bail

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N'DJAMENA, Nov 9 (Reuters) Protesters in Chad demanded that seven Europeans freed over the weekend return to face trial over an attempt to fly 103 African children to live in Europe, and six French citizens still being held sought bail.

Demonstrators held placards criticizing French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who flew in to pick up three French journalists and four Spanish air stewardesses on Sunday and has vowed to return for 10 more Europeans facing child abduction charges.

''President Nicolas Sarkozy ... has become a true champion of the French child traffickers,'' said yesterday a statement read by one of the crowd of more than 100 protesters, mostly young men, as they stood outside the court house in the capital, N'Djamena.

''We ask Nicolas Sarkozy to bring back the seven accomplices so they can be tried in Chad together with the other traffickers, who will remain in Chad,'' said the statement by the protesters, who chanted, ''Justice in Chad.'' Unless organized by the government, spontaneous protests are rare in the impoverished central African country.

Six French nationals detained on child abduction and fraud charges appeared in court on Thursday and applied for bail.

''We have ... requested for each of the six French people in detention to be freed. The judge has 10 days to give his decision,'' Mario Stasi, one of their lawyers, told reporters as he left the court house after the hearing.

Zoe's Ark, the French group to which the six belong, said the children were orphans from Sudan's war-torn Darfur region, but UN officials in Chad said almost all the infants had at least one parent and came from the Chad-Sudan border area.

Stasi said the investigating judge had met the six as well as a Chadian suspect who worked as their interpreter.

''The interpreter, who is in effect the one who denounced everybody, was forced to admit that when he was translating he indeed said that they were children who came from Darfur. ...

If that is true, it's he who has deceived everybody,'' Stasi said.

Earlier, a state lawyer said legal authorities would decide within 48 hours whether the group would be prosecuted in a criminal or civil case.

The remaining three Spanish air crew and a Belgian pilot, aged 74, were also in detention, charged as accessories.

RUMORS Rumors spread in N'Djamena yesterday that dozens of children had already been flown to France, but French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani said it was not true.

''This report is one of the rumors doing the rounds over the Zoe's Ark affair. It is without foundation,'' she said.

The French and Spanish suspects were arrested two weeks ago as they prepared to fly 103 children aged between 1 and 10 years to an airport outside Paris, where foster families were waiting after paying thousands of euros (dollars) for the children's travel costs.

Chad says the group had no authorization to fly the children out of the country and has said it will prosecute them in Chad.

But two days after he assured Chadian President Idriss Deby that France respected Chad and its justice system, Sarkozy promised on Tuesday to go back to Chad ''and get those still there, whatever they may have done''.

That provoked a terse response from Chadian ministers who have insisted the Europeans should be tried on Chadian soil.

Relatives of the six French detainees met Sarkozy in Paris for about an hour yesterday.

Sarkozy's spokesman, David Martinon, said in a statement the president had ''expressed confidence in the justice system and stressed that it should be allowed to work calmly and in full respect of Chadian sovereignty.'' The accused face up to 20 years in prison with hard labor if convicted in Chad. They would receive lesser sentences in France and Paris has suggested activating a judicial cooperation deal between the two countries that might permit their extradition.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement saying the ''attempted abduction'' of the children underscored the need for all organizations to respect international law.

Amid reports the case has undermined confidence in the motives of foreign aid workers and even UN agencies, Ban said U.N. humanitarian assistance would continue.

''He is confident that the Government of Chad will continue to work closely with the UN and its partners to address humanitarian and development needs in the country promptly,'' the statement said.

Reuters MP VP0510

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