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Saddam refuses plea after formal charges read out

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, May 15 (Reuters) Saddam Hussein refused to enter a plea at his trial today after he was formally charged with ordering the killing and torture of hundreds of Shi'ite villagers, telling the judge he was still Iraq's president.

The detailed charges read out by Judge Raouf Abdel Rahman stemmed from the killing of 148 Shi'ites after an attempt on Saddam's life in 1982 in the village of Dujail.

The ousted president was accused of ordering the killing and torture of hundreds in the village, including women and children, and that he sent helicopters and planes to pound Dujail, north of Baghdad.

Wearing a dark suit and white shirt, Saddam smiled as he listened to the charges, holding a Koran in his left hand.

''This statement cannot influence me or shake a hair of my head.

What matters to me is the Iraqi people and myself,'' Saddam said.

''I am president of Iraq by the will of the Iraqi people.'' Replying the judge said: ''You were, but not now.'' Rahman said some of the men and women taken prisoner in Dujail by Saddam's security forces were tortured with ''blows to the head and electric shocks'' and that five died under torture.

He also read out the names of 32 of the 148 who were under 18 and therefore should not have been executed under then-exisiting Iraqi and international law, the judge said.

The court then called Saddam's half-brother Barzan al- Tikriti, former chief of the feared intelligence security forces, who dimissed charges read out to him were ''lies''.

If found guilty, Saddam, 69, faces a death sentence.

Six other co-accused are also being tried for the Dujail case, the first of many trials the ousted leader could face.

Witnesses for the defence were expected to testify later in the day.


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