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Thursday, January 7, 1999 Published at 21:08 GMT


Sombre start to Clinton trial

Henry Hyde read the two articles of impeachment

The United States Senate has begun proceedings against President Bill Clinton in only the second presidential impeachment trial in American history.


The BBC's Damian Grammaticas reports on the opening of the proceedings
Hearings started with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde's sombre reading of the two articles of impeachment against the president - that he committed perjury and obstructed the course of justice over his affair with Monica Lewinsky.


[ image:  ]
Mr Hyde declared that President Clinton had "prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice".

Mr Hyde and a dozen other House of Representatives Republicans named as prosecutors for the trial appeared before the Senators, who sat silently at their desks.


[ image:  ]
Before the reading, the 13 prosecutors had walked in silence across the Capitol, followed by cameras broadcasting the trial live to the American nation and around the world.


Strom Thurmond: "Either take your seats or go to the cloakrooms"
Strom Thurmond, the 96-year-old Senate president pro tempore, called the session to order.

"Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye, all persons are commanded to be silent," declared the Senate sergeant at arms, James W Ziglar.


Before the reading the Senate prayed
The trial is due to start officially later in the day when US Chief Justice William Rehnquist is sworn in to preside over the trial and swears in the 100-member Senate as jurors.

Horse-trading behind the scenes

However, wrangling over how the trial, particularly over the calling of witnesses, is expected to continue even after the formal opening.

Most Democrat senators want a quick hearing but Republicans say they should appear.


[ image: Henry Hyde: Mr Clinton
Henry Hyde: Mr Clinton "has prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice"
As Mr Hyde was reading the charges, the White House confirmed that if the Senate decides to call witnesses in the trial, it would move to delay the proceedings.

The latest US opinion polls say the American public support the Democrats on the issue.

In a poll for CBS News, 63% of respondents said a full trial, complete with witnesses and testimony, was unnecessary.

The latest Gallup poll for CNN suggested 62% of the American public did not want the trial to last more than a few days.

More than half of respondents thought there should be no trial at all.

Approval from 67 of the 100 senators would be needed for President Clinton to be convicted and removed from office.

Correspondents say that is unlikely in a Senate comprising 55 Republicans and 45 Democrats.



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