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Saddam fed in hospital after hunger strike-court

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, July 23 (Reuters) Saddam Hussein was taken to hospital and given food today after 16 days on hunger strike and will not attend court tomorrow, the chief prosecutor in the former Iraqi leader's trial for crimes against humanity said.

''To avoid a deterioration in his health he was taken to hospital for medical attention and food was given to him through his mouth,'' Jaafar al-Moussawi told Reuters. ''He will not be able to attend the session tomorrow.'' Conflicting reports on Saddam's health and his lawyers' refusal to attend the next court session highlighted the chaotic nature of his trial, which is approaching its conclusion.

Earlier, a U.S. military spokesman said Saddam was well enough to return to court tomorrow in response to a report that he had been taken to hospital.

''Right now, we consider that the defendants are in a condition where they can return to court,'' he said.

''He's continuing with his hunger strike and we are providing appropriate medical care.'' The U.S. military says the 69-year-old ex-president has been drinking sweet coffee and liquid nourishment and receiving psychological counselling to try to persuade him to eat.

FORCE FEEDING Saddam and his co-accused are on trial for the killing of 148 Shi'ite men and teenagers after an attempt on his life in the town of Dujail in 1982.

He is also awaiting trial in August for genocide against the Kurds in the late 1980s under the so-called Anfal campaign.

The Dujail trial, which U.S. and Iraqi officials had hoped would project a new image of democracy in postwar Iraq, has been marred by the killing of three defence lawyers.

Saddam and his half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan al-Tikriti have often launched tirades in the chamber in a trial which saw the resignation of the first chief judge in protest over what he called government interference.

Saddam's chief defence lawyer accused U.S. military authorities of force feeding the toppled president to make him end the hunger strike.

''The U.S. military are force feeding the president to break his will and end his hunger strike to protest against the trial and its illegality,'' Khalil Dulaimi told Reuters in Amman.

Dulaimi said he had held a three-hour meeting with Saddam yesterday to confer on defence tactics in which a decision was taken to boycott tomorrow's session. He said he had found Saddam in good health, despite a weight loss of several kilograms.

''They have clearly exhausted all means at their disposal to convince him to end the strike and now they are resorting to force ... this is a gross violation of his rights.'' Saddam, who was absent as the U.S. backed court heard final arguments in defence of two minor co-accused, said he had boycotted the session to protest against a decision to convict him through unlawful proceedings.

Dulaimi said the defence team would boycott tomorrow's session in protest at the court's refusal to meet their demands for a fair trial.

''After all our legal demands that represent the minimum for a fair trial have been refused, the defence team decided to continue its complete suspension of its attendance of the trial sessions,'' he said.

Reuters MQA DB2042

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