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Last Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006, 00:35 GMT 01:35 UK
Death trial on a divided island
By Phil Mackie
BBC News, Nicosia

Kemal Kemalzade being led from court by police officers
Kemal Kemalzade denies the manslaughter of Colin Salt

The trial of Kemal Kemalzade - accused of the manslaughter of Colin Salt who died in an explosion at a Stoke-on-Trent newsagents in December 2000 - has begun in northern Cyprus.

Events are very different to what would have happened had the hearing been taking place in the UK.

On Monday the first of up to 48 witnesses will give evidence in the Turkish occupied north of the island.

It's a huge operation. Each witness will fly to Larnaca, be driven to Nicosia and then have to walk through the United Nations buffer zone to the court buildings in the north. It will take at least a day's travel either side of the court appearance.

The journey is quite daunting. As one walks to the border the signs of the conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots a generation ago become obvious.

There are abandoned buildings, pock marked by shells and bullet holes. The fortifications grow larger and more formidable the nearer you get to the checkpoints.

Propaganda posters in the south decry alleged Turkish Cypriot atrocities, in the north it's the Greek Cypriots in the south who are lambasted.

As you enter the north a sign welcomes you to the Turkish republic of Northern Cyprus. But mention that name in the south and you'll be in trouble.

These are lands, they say, which were occupied by a military invasion led by Turkey in 1974.

In the north they'll tell you a different story. This, they say, is a state set up after a military "intervention" to protect Turkish Cypriot interests.

Escape prosecution

That's why this case is so interesting. The Turkish occupied north exists in a kind of limbo, outside international law.

Colin Salt
Colin Salt died 18 days after the explosion at the newsagents

Only Turkey recognises its statehood and that means there are no extradition treaties.

In the past fugitives have fled to the island to escape prosecution elsewhere, including many from the UK.

When Kemal Kemalzade flew here shortly before a warrant was issued for his arrest in the UK in 2001, he may have thought he'd never stand trial.

But detectives from the Turkish side of the border travelled to Stoke-on-Trent, interviewed witnesses, gathered evidence, and brought charges against Mr Kemalzade here.

Such moves sent a signal to fugitives that in future the same could happen to them.

In the south, they're also watching the case with interest, because the Republic of Cyprus remains hostile towards any normalisation of relations with the Turkish-occupied north.

Noisy altercation

The legal system is based on the British model at the time of Cyprus' independence in the 1960s.

In England and Wales it was extensively reformed in the 1970s, but here there are still old-fashioned committal proceedings, and this is an Assizes Court, presided over by three judges.

There was even an ancient copy of the criminal proceedings guide Archbold produced in court by Mr Kemalzade's lawyer as he challenged the court's legitimacy.

But there the similarity ends. Outside there are palm and olive trees. Old men sit in the street playing backgammon, and inside proceedings are a lot more lively.

The defence lawyer had a noisy altercation with a cameraman outside the court, and during the hearing appeared to challenge every piece of evidence proffered by the Turkish Cypriot investigator Ediz Aytan.

There was little cross-examination, just shouting. As one lawyer harangued a witness, the other berated the judge.

A lot livelier than if the trial had been heard, as originally intended, in the West Midlands.

There was also a delay as debris from the explosion at the newsagents was brought into the court.

It took eight men to carry the shop's door, sign, metal shutters and other remnants of the newsagents.

All of which were placed in the corner of the court room in case they're needed for evidence.

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21 Nov 05 |  Staffordshire
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30 Mar 04 |  Staffordshire
Country profile: Cyprus
11 Jul 06 |  Country profiles

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