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Last Updated: Monday, 28 November 2005, 11:12 GMT
Saddam opens hearing with tirade
Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein made a series of complaints to the judge
Saddam Hussein has made a typically defiant appearance as his trial on murder and torture charges resumed in Baghdad after a six-week break.

He upbraided the presiding judge about his treatment, saying that he had been denied a pen to sign documents.

Alongside the former Iraqi leader were seven of his former aides, also accused of ordering the massacre of 148 Shias in the Iraqi town of Dujail in 1982.

All eight of the accused have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The trial has now heard its first evidence - video testimony from a witness who died recently.

At least four defence lawyers have failed to turn up, although Saddam Hussein's own lawyer did attend.

It is not clear why the missing lawyers did not appear nor which defendants they represent.

Safety fears

Defence lawyers had threatened to boycott Monday's proceedings, following the assassination of two of their colleagues and death threats against others.

But they later withdrew their threat after undisclosed promises were made regarding their security arrangements.

Don't alert them! Order them. You are an Iraqi, you are sovereign and they are invaders, foreigners and occupiers
Saddam Hussein

Just before the trial began at least one mortar was fired into the heavily fortified Green Zone where the trial is taking place.

The eight defendants, who could face execution if convicted, entered the courtroom one at a time and took their seats.

Saddam Hussein was the last to be called. There was a long wait before he finally emerged, dressed in a dark suit and white shirt.

Heated exchange

On the orders of Chief Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin none of them were wearing shackles or handcuffs.

During his previous court appearance Saddam Hussein initially refused to recognise the authority of the judge before eventually entering his not guilty plea.

Man holding photo of Dujail victim

He was similarly argumentative on Monday, complaining about the fact that he had to climb four floors to the courtroom because the elevator was broken.

He also objected to being escorted up the stairs by "foreign guards".

In a series of heated exchanges with the chief judge he also complained about the fact that his guards had taken his pen away, rendering him unable to sign the necessary court papers:

"I will alert them to the problem," Judge Amin said in response.

"Don't alert them! Order them. You are an Iraqi, you are sovereign and they are invaders, foreigners and occupiers," Saddam Hussein fired back.

High profile defender

The trial is the first of what could be many prosecutions for alleged human rights abuses carried out during Saddam Hussein's rule.

US left-wing activist Ramsey Clark
Clark was US attorney general during the 1960s

The prosecution says 148 people, mostly men, were killed in the largely Shia town, some 60km (35 miles) north of Baghdad, after a failed assassination attempt against the former leader.

Former US attorney general Ramsey Clark, an outspoken critic of the trial, was seated alongside the defence team.

Mr Clark, 77, who flew in from the Jordanian capital Amman on Sunday, said he wanted to protect Saddam Hussein's rights.

"A fair trial in this case is absolutely imperative for historical truth," he told Reuters news agency.

The left-wing activist, who held office in the 1960s under President Lyndon Johnson, has previously described the special tribunal as a creation of the US military occupation.

Assassination plot

Most of the 40-day break between hearings has been dominated by security issues. The chief judge told a German magazine he had considered moving the trial to Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.

Saddam supporters in Tikrit
In Tikrit Saddam supporters demanded his immediate release

However he decided that Baghdad was secure enough for "regular and fair proceedings", even if they are "admittedly difficult".

In the interests of security, the identities of four of the five trial judges have been kept secret, and some of the 35 witnesses may testify behind curtains to protect them from reprisals.

Some 200 Shias gathered in the town of Dujail on Monday to demonstrate against Saddam Hussein and call for his execution, AFP reported.

In Saddam's home town of Tikrit there were demonstrations in favour of the deposed leader.

On the eve of the trial re-opening, Iraqi police announced that eight people had been detained over a plot to kill the judge who prepared the case against Saddam Hussein.

The men, arrested four days ago in Kirkuk, northern Iraq, were allegedly acting on the orders of Saddam Hussein's former deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.

The BBC's John Simpson reports on the mood in the court

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