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Supporters rally for ANC leader

Jacob Zuma singing
Mr Zuma sang an anti-apartheid guerrilla song to the crowd

Supporters of Jacob Zuma, leader of South Africa's governing ANC, have rallied as he appeared in court to get graft charges against him thrown out.

Addressing the cheering crowds in Zulu, Mr Zuma thanked them for standing by him through thick and thin.

The ANC leader stands accused of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money-laundering over a 1999 arms deal.

He says he is the victim of a political conspiracy designed to prevent him from becoming South Africa's next president.

"In my life I have never been afraid of anything," AFP news agency quoted him as telling the crowd outside the high court in Pietermaritzburg, where some supporters had been camped out overnight dancing and singing.

"Those who know me will know that I am not a coward. I have never been afraid of anything... I was willing to die for this country and I am prepared to die for it."

He then sang his trademark anti-apartheid guerrilla song, Bring Me My Machine Gun.

"I think he's got all the skills, he's got all the capacity, he's got all the strength to become the president," said one supporter.

At the hearing, which will continue on Tuesday, his lawyers argued that delays in bringing the case meant he would not get a fair trial, and said prosecutors had not followed proper legal procedures.

Mr Zuma has said he will stand down as African National Congress leader only if he is found guilty. Critics say he is just trying to delay proceedings until after he is elected president.

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Supporters of the ANC leader hold a vigil in Pietermaritzburg

This was to have been the start of Mr Zuma's corruption trial but the ANC leader is challenging the state's decision to prosecute him, the BBC's Peter Biles reports from Pietermaritzburg.

The shadow of corruption has been hanging over Mr Zuma for several years.

In 2005 he was sacked as South Africa's deputy president when his financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was found guilty of soliciting a bribe on behalf of Mr Zuma and jailed for 15 years in connection with an arms deal.

Mr Zuma then went on trial, but the case collapsed in 2006 when the prosecution said it was not ready to proceed.

He was charged again last December shortly after winning a bitter campaign against President Thabo Mbeki to become ANC leader.

Zuma supporters dance outside Pietermaritzburg High Court

He denies the charges laid against him and says he has been the victim of a political conspiracy.

"There's a smear campaign for him not to be president," said a supporter outside court in Pietermaritzburg.

The leadership of the ruling ANC is also standing squarely behind him

"We believe that Mr Zuma has been persecuted more than prosecuted by the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) and he's been tried in the public arena," ANC's chief spokesperson Jessie Duarte said.

"It cannot take eight years to find enough evidence, if you have any, to bring a matter to trial."

Mr Zuma suffered a setback last week when he lost a legal bid to stop documents seized from his home and other locations being used as evidence in a trial.

The ANC says it expects Mr Zuma, a former deputy president, to be its candidate for president in next year's election, when Mr Mbeki steps down.

In February 2006, Mr Zuma was acquitted of rape in a separate case, though he was widely criticised for comments about sex and HIV/Aids.


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