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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 December 2005, 12:18 GMT
Arab media unclear on Saddam claims
By Sebastian Usher
BBC World media correspondent

Saddam Hussein in court
Saddam Hussein's trial has been followed closely

The claim by Saddam Hussein that he has been tortured in custody is on the front pages of many Arab newspapers.

But it is unclear whether his latest efforts to portray himself as a victim of the Americans is playing that well in the Middle East.

There is certainly widespread fascination with his trial. Arabs have the opportunity to follow it in the minutest detail if they wish - it is being broadcast in its entirety on several Iraqi and pan-Arab TV stations.

"The Americans beat me" reads the headline in the influential al-Sharq al-Awsat, under a big photo of Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants.

The allegation features prominently in other Arab papers.

But there is no indication how seriously Saddam Hussein's attempt to paint himself as a martyr is being taken.

Saddam song

Until now, much of the Arab press focus has been on the trial itself rather than the former Iraqi leader - with plenty of criticism that it is stage-managed by the Americans.

There have also been charges of double standards - with one paper, the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi, asking who will put President George W Bush on trial for the 30,000 Iraqis he conceded had been killed since the US-led invasion.

For its part, Arab TV has provided wall-to-wall coverage of the trial. The state TV station in Iraq and onetime mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein, al-Iraqiya, is now his main accuser.

In the trial recesses, it plays a song condemning the former president.

Over images of Saddam Hussein and the victims of his regime, the lyrics ask: "Oh oppressor, where will you go and hide now, leaving behind all these injustices, worse than any committed by any other ruler or government."

Censorship claims

It is not just Iraqi stations that are showing the trial in full. Dubai-based station al-Arabiya has shown most of the trial, as has al-Jazeera.

This means that Arabs have seen the problems in the handling of the trial - technical and otherwise - prompting many to dismiss it as farce.

The cutting-off of sound at times when Saddam Hussein has been speaking has also been condemned by some as censorship by the Iraqi authorities, who are providing the TV feed.

In an interview with London-based paper al-Hayat, the chief judge had to defend his handling of the trial, saying he allowed Iraq's former leader and his co-defendants to make speeches, because he was open-minded.

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