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Court moves US Mmarine rape trial to Manila

Written by: Staff
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MANILA, Mar 28 (Reuters) The Philippine Supreme Court approved today the transfer of the rape trial of four US Marines to a local court in Manila after the judge handling the case northwest of the capital withdrew last week.

The trial, due to start last Friday with the arraignment of the accused, will be delayed until a new judge is picked.

The justice department and the lawyer for the alleged rape victim, a 22-year-old Filipino woman, have separately asked the court this week to move the trial to Manila to avoid further delays.

''The case load of Makati regional trial court is quite lighter than Manila and Quezon City,'' Ismael Khan, the court's spokesman, told reporters on the decision of the Supreme Court to move the rape trial to Manila's financial district.

''I think the court considered that the trial will attract foreign journalists, so it is better that the case be heard in a more presentable court,'' said Khan. ''We might be branded a kangaroo court if the trial were held in a rundown court.'' Judge Renato Dilag voluntarily withdrew from the case last week after the alleged victim's lawyer filed a petition asking him to step aside.

It was discovered Dilag's son worked until 2004 with one of the lawyers defending the four sailors who were accused of raping the woman in a van at a former US navy base in Subic bay, north of Manila.

The sailors, being held in the custody of the US embassy in the capital, deny the charges filed in December, saying only one of them had sex with the woman and that it was consensual.

A person convicted of rape in the Philippines can be sentenced to death by lethal injection.

Some politicians and groups have called for a review of a military agreement between Washington and Manila, saying it favours the United States and gives too much protection to US troops accused of committing crimes.

The Philippines is a former US colony and Washington's closest security ally in Southeast Asia.

REUTERS DKS RK1540

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